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A whopping 725 workers have been back-paid more than $330,000 after a series of Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) raids identified worrying levels of wage theft in regional Victoria and NSW.
Less than three weeks after recovering $580,000 in stolen wages from regional businesses across Australia’s eastern seaboard, the FWO has unveiled the results of another series of inspections in Albury-Wodonga, Ballarat and Wollongong.
It found nearly half (47%) of the 489 businesses that received surprise door knocks were in breach of workplace laws, including retail outlets, takeaway shops, cafes and bars.
Over a third (35%) of audited businesses were found to be underpaying workers their minimum hourly rates, while 12% weren’t paying correct penalty rates.
The findings are just the latest in a long line of FWO audits identifying widespread wage theft and non-compliance with Australia’s workplace laws, particularly in regional areas.
Wage theft was the most common breach identified by FWO inspectors, followed by record-keeping failures, often used as a tactic by dodgy operators looking to cover their tracks.
Echoing findings from similar campaigns in the past, the ombudsman said a “lack of awareness” was behind the “majority of non-compliant cases”, including the 31% of firms caught stealing wages.
More than half (63%) of employers audited were “unaware” of all applicable workplace relations obligations, 15% had “misinterpreted” award requirements and 9% stole wages because of a “business decision” such as paying a flat rate.
Fair Work focused on specific areas in regional Victoria and NSW with large numbers of university student residents attending nearby campuses, once again demonstrating the link between vulnerable workers and dodgy employers.
“Like many workers in the hospitality industry, young workers in these regions were potentially vulnerable due to their age, visa status and reliance on local jobs to support themselves,” fair work ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a statement circulated on Thursday.
“Australia’s minimum pay rates are not negotiable, and employers in the fast food, restaurant and café sector need to actively check that they are paying their staff correctly before we visit their business.”
Fines totalling $30,360 were handed out in 37 cases, alongside 35 format cautions and nine compliance notices for back payments.
In a similar audit last month, which saw 1,300 regional businesses visited by inspectors, one-in-five (22%) were found to be stealing wages from their workers.
This will come as no surprise to MB readers who long ago probed the anus of the services economy:
It struck me as I sat there that it was wonderfully convenient to have a Thai massage joint just around the corner, especially given my local shops are not very large. I briefly surveyed the other shops and realised swiftly that what I was looking at was the lion’s share of the Australian services economy supply chain. Nearly all of it was directed not at the production of anything, nor the supply of anything, nor the inputs to some factory, but at servicing my person. Specifically, it was mostly targeted at various components of my body. There was an inordinately expensive organic grocer for my stomach. A retro barber for my head. A manicurist for my nails. A tatooist for my ink. A specialist wine purveyor for my tongue. A gift store for my birthday. A shop front personal trainer for my flab. An Asian tailor and presser for my clothes. Any number of cafes of course. And a real estate agent on every corner.
I realised that it was I that was the factory. My body, or more to the point, my mind, my intellectual property, was being supported my an extensive supply chain of services that plumped, fattened, thinned, preened, pressed, fluffed, trimmed and massaged me into the ongoing production of ideas.
There was one thing more that was obvious. These various services were not just the slapdash Aussies of yesteryear. There were no lackadaisical loafers working for the man and hanging for a smoko. Each of the services on display was a finely crafted specialist, an artisan in his and her craft, immensely serious with extraordinary attention to detail. The massage offered a limitless array of options right down to your chosen incense and its specific impact upon your chakras. The barber wore a perfect replica suit from the 1920s and sported enormous mustaches to match. The personal trainer rippled in the window. The grocer glowed with ruddy peasant health and one could almost smell the fresh loam on her fingers. The cafe’s were a rival for Tate Modern in their timberwork and ceramics, and one could literally choose a vintage decolletage in which to hang as if riding in a time machine.
The amount of effort and innovation going into finding a competitive edge for the privilege of servicing my sagging flesh was spectacular.
And that’s the thing. All of these local shops are a hive entrepreneurial beavering. But all of them are directed inwards in an endlessly dividing paradox of insignificance. None of them is tradable, as services mostly are not, so none has the chance to flower much beyond the local shops, let alone nationally or internationally. That poses a problem for the economy because if all you ever do is service one another in more elaborately infinitesimal detail then there is no actual wealth generation going on. There was no organic capital generation, no capital deepening nor breakthrough’s in efficiency. The capital that drives this machine by definition comes from outside of it in the form of a visitor, a new buyer of a local asset or someone that has borrowed to invest.
In short, this bulging prolapsed anus economy is based upon population growth to supply illegally cheap labour, more warm bodies in the absence of income growth and debt for houses to create wealth. It is a near complete waste of everybody’s time and effort other than for a very few oligarchs.
There are jobs but they all lead nowhere beyond the confines of your own date and are endemically underpaid. Corrupt authorities’ answer is to back-fill this lack of income growth and demand with ever more people, intensifying the “capital shallowing” and slicing the income pie into ever thinner pieces.
It is a doom loop that will eventually see the low rent services rectum distend until it engulfs and smothers the host.
He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.