Every year, the Fair Work Ombudsman announces its strategic priorities for the upcoming year, which determines what their key areas of focus are with respect to enforcing and driving compliance within the industrial relations landscape. It’s an important point to keep in mind that the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is a separate entity to the Fair Work Commission (FWC). The FWO is the regulatory body that assists employees and employers with understanding compliance and certain entitlements under the Fair Work Act. It also acts as a regulator – carrying out audits, investigations and bringing proceedings against employers doing the wrong thing. Separate to this, the FWC is the national workplace relations tribunal which operates with the purpose of maintaining minimum wages or conditions and deals with certain applications relating to dismissal, adverse action, bullying, sexual harassment, industrial action. The FWC is also involved with mediation, conciliation and tribunal hearings.

Last year, FWO put a spotlight on “high risk industries” with vulnerable workers operating within the cleaning, fast food, restaurant and horticulture industries. Fast food, restaurants and cafes and agriculture will remain a priority this year, however the FWO has also now added the universities sector to their point of focus. This inclusion of the tertiary sector has been added to their list of top priorities following universities coming forward with reports finding they were severely underpaying their casual employees.

Further, the Ombudsman’s strategic vision has always largely reflected a strong spotlight on protecting vulnerable workers. This will continue to remain a priority, with particular emphasis on visa holders, sham contracting and large corporates who have self-reported underpayments, including household name companies such as Woolworths, Coles and Commonwealth Bank.


Why is this relevant for small business owners?

The release of FWO’s strategic priorities acts as a timely reminder that the FWO are actively pursuing businesses failing to act compliantly. This makes it increasingly apparent that “under the table” arrangements and cutting-corner approaches to managing employees is a pressing risk to businesses who may be operating in this way. It also makes clear that businesses must remain aware and proactive in maintaining compliance within their business, and make this a priority when managing employees.

Importantly, the Ombudsman has pinpointed insights for businesses to consider that are known to impact Fair Work compliance, and these are:

  • poor governance and management oversight
  • lack of centralised human resource functions
  • lack of payroll and time-recording systems


These insights highlight a necessity for business owners to critically assess their current HR function, and to seriously consider how they can invest in these in a way to ensure they are compliantly and accurately engaging their employees.

If you require any support with understanding your obligations with the Fair Work Act, Modern Awards, or how to remain compliant, please reach out to the HR Connect team.


About HR Connect

HR Connect is one of Australia’s leading providers of HR and workplace safety advice service, designed to help small business owners make confident and compliant business decisions.



The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact HR Connect for advice.

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