You know it’s important to speak up at work. But honestly, it’s a daunting prospect to confront your employer when you know or suspect you’re being underpaid. We’re lucky in Australia to have robust workplace laws, legal rights and unions, but this doesn’t mean that employers always do the right thing.
Underpayment can take on different forms: it can occur when an employer offers an unfair employment agreement that is not inline with the minimum award, or when an employer doesn’t make payments in line with what has been agreed. One of the hardest forms of underpayment to detect is underpayment of superannuation, because it requires you to check your account regularly to ensure payments are being made.
Here are our quick tips for what to do if you fear, or know, that you are being underpaid.
1.Check out what you’re meant to be paid and know your rights
Your pay entitlements will be outlined in the employment agreement you have signed with your employer. This agreement may include salary or wages that are higher than the minimum wage, but they can’t legally be below the minimum wage.
To understand what the minimum amount you’re entitled to is, jump onto the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website and punch your details into the free pay calculator. Once you’re done, it’ll tell you the minimum that you should be earning per hour, per week and for every night or weekend.
2.Talk to your employer
Underpayment can often best be solved through a quick discussion with your employer -especially if it’s a simple mistake and your employer is willing to admit their wrongdoing and do what’s necessary to correct it.
You can either reference the agreed salary listed in your contract, or explain to your employer that you went on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s site and got some information about the minimum rate and ask them to back pay you and fix your future salary.
Always follow these conversations with an email confirming the discussion and the agreed date for any payment resolution. This ensures accountability and a mutual, on-paper, understanding of what’s expected from both parties.
Hospo Voice has produced template letters that you can send to your boss to create that necessary paper trail.
3. Rally the troops (ie. other coworkers)
If you believe your employer’s actions are deliberate and others may be affected, it can often be beneficial to discuss any underpayment issues with your co-workers first and then approach your employer together. There can be power in numbers. Get together a record of the hours you’ve all been working and instances of underpayment.
4. Ask your union for help
Another excellent source of support can be the union for your industry. Not every industry has one, but it is often possible to approach the union of a similar industry. Union workers will be able to advise you of your legal rights specific to your industry and award. To help you get in touch with your union, we’ve made a short list of common unions below.
5. Tell the Fair Work Ombudsman
If you’ve confirmed that your employer has underpaid you, and if you have been unable to resolve the issue with your employer, then it’s time to approach the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).
Usually the FWO will refer you and your employer to attend an “Assisted Voluntary Resolution” which is a mediation process facilitated by the FWO to achieve a resolution between you and your employer.
Sometimes the FWO may support you to take legal action against your employer in court, or they may recommend that you start legal action to recover your entitlements if the above process is not, or is unlikely to be, successful. It’s also possible to provide the Ombudsman with an anonymous tip-off.
6. Speak to a lawyer
When you’ve already tried to resolve an underpayment issue with your employer and you’ve reached out to the Fair Work Ombudsman, then it might be time to speak with an employment lawyer. There are many free legal centres, especially for young workers, that can give you guidance about what to do next.
Legal support services
Young Workers’ Centre: http://www.youngworkers.org.au/
Federation of Community Legal Centres: https://www.fclc.org.au/
Australian Legal Aid: https://www.australia.gov.au/information-and-services/public-safety-and-law/legal-aid
Quick links to help you get in touch with your union:
Nursing and Midwifery: http://anmf.org.au/
General Health Services: https://hsu.net.au/
Hospitality & General: https://www.unitedvoice.org.au/
Construction and Trades: https://cg.cfmeu.org.au/
Retail and Fast Food: https://www.raffwu.org.au/