Institute of Certified Bookkeepers

Matthew Addison writes

It isn’t all wages theft – it is far too hard

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) continues to report on a daily basis employers who have found errors or had errors found and have then taken action to rectify the errors.

Not all of these are deliberate, in fact the vast majority are anything but deliberate.  To brand it as wages theft is just not fair.

Many of the alleged wins by FWO are in fact self assessed by the employer who then disclosed to the FWO.


Employers have obligations and should take steps to ensure they understand all the requirements and adhere to them all the time.

It remains too hard.

  • Too many awards
  • Too many categories.
  • Too many alternatives.

 And then there is the contradictions:  Does the payslip for a casual worker need to specify the break out of the casual loading or not?  FWO website changed recently to say

“any loadings (including casual loading), allowances, bonuses, incentive-based payments, penalty rates or other paid entitlements that can be separated out from an employee’s ordinary hourly rate. For example, a note could be included on a pay slip that the hourly rate incorporates the relevant casual loading.”

Yet they issue penalties for payslip breaches because the Loading is not specifically listed on payslips.  It is stated in the pay category or on a note but yet when the Assessor is on a role the penalties seem to be just added on.

The system is confusing, the FWO isn’t always helpful.

The constant harassing of employers is unwarranted.

The ongoing threat of “Accessorial liability” has intermediaries, advisors including bookkeepers scared of doing payroll.  The headlines threaten that if you were involved you will be fined.  The reality is that you have to be complicit and probably have not corrected your actions when told to before you will be severely prosecuted.

A reality is that most employers try to get it right.  The cost to an employer of having a full legal review of their workplace to assess and endeavour to apply the right award and employee classifications and obtain absolute certainty is well beyond the means of a significant number of employers.

Is the fact that so many appear to get it wrong a sign that everyone is a crook or is it a sign that it is just too hard to get it 100% right.

When there are so many errors surely it says something is broken.

Kate Carnell of ASBFEO has called for a Small Business simplified award.  She and others have called for different approach and better processes to assist employers to meet their obligations.

There are many positive assistant tools and information but clearly we aren’t there yet.

It is fortunate that there are contemporary good HR consulting firms that assist business with affordable solutions.  It is unfortunate that there are still some Employment Advice firms that use scare tactics and sign employers into expensive long term contracts that give the whole regime a bad smell.  It is unfortunate that we have an Employment system that has such complexity meaning that uncertainty abounds and mistakes are made.  Surely we could have an approach by Government that first provides support, assistance and certainty before the negative headlines.

The employer who alters records, underpays and exploits should be hung out to dry.  The vast majority of employers who try very hard to run a business and wish to employ should not be discouraged or in fear of doing so. 

How about the FWO have a true help and assist team, that seeks to provide real advice that can be relied on with certainty by the employer as the basis going forward.



  • 30 October 2019