Are you paying the right wages?

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A recent Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) case involving underpayment by a Melbourne real estate agent highlights the importance of complying with applicable wage rules.

The Hawthorn-based real estate agent agreed to pay back a 28-year-old Chinese worker $5000 after the FWO found the worker was being underpaid.

The 485 temporary graduate visa holder was being paid $9 an hour, less than $375 a week, for responsibilities including drafting contracts, general administration and assisting buyers.

The business operator believed the employee was being correctly paid as an intern, despite the employee unsuccessfully trying to resolve the issue after consulting the FWO.

However, the FWO said the worker was an employee and therefore entitled to the minimum wage, even while on probation.

This case highlights the need for employers to understand and comply with the wage rates applicable to their workplace.

"It is unacceptable for an employer to take advantage of any worker, especially overseas workers who have a limited understanding of their workplace rights," says the Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James.

"We have minimum pay rates in Australia, they apply to everyone, and they are not negotiable. While many employers want to do the right thing, there are some who seek to gain a competitive advantage by exploiting vulnerable workers, such as visa-holders.”

The FWO also highlights five other cases on non-compliance in Melbourne’s east, including a Mount Waverley-based storeman who was repaid $20,4000 after being paid $19 an hour for three-and-a-half years when he should have received up to $23.08; as well as a salesman who received $8900 after no being paid for weekend work, annual leave and travel time during overseas business trips.

The other cases involved instances of workers now being paid annual leave upon resignation, and a labourer who was paid part-time wages without the entitlements of permanent employee.

James urges small businesses in particular to contact the FWO for advice if they are unsure about their obligations. James also notes both employers and employees can use the FWO’s free online tools and resources to check entitlements specific to their workplace.

"When we find errors, our preference is to educate employers about their obligations and assist them to put processes in place to ensure the mistakes are not repeated," says James.

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