The new regulator for industrial relations in the building and construction industry in Australia has recovered more than $1.2 million in unpaid wages owed to almost 1,000 workers throughout the country, the Fair Work Building Commission (FWBC) says.
In a statement released on Thursday, FWBC chief executive Leigh Johns says the agency has recovered a total of $1,294,302 on behalf of workers since its inception on June 1.
By contrast, the FWBC’s predecessor, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) managed to recover just $294,000 for workers in its last full calendar year of operation in 2011.
Based on these numbers, in just four months, the FWBC has collected more than five times the amount for workers as the former regulator did in a whole year – a significant achievement and a cap in the feather of an agency critics have called a ‘toothless tiger’.
Jones says the results to-date have been encouraging, and are the outcome of a proactive effort on the part of the new regulator.
“Since our first day of operation, FWBC has been out-and-about on building sites around the country, working hard to educate employers and employees about their workplace rights and obligations—so that everyone can receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” Johns says. “Often we find that underpayments are unintentional. In those cases, where the employer has made a genuine mistake, our focus is simply to get the workers their money and make sure the employer has information to get it right in the future.”
This latest news follows the announcement earlier this week about the new building regulator’s filing of civil charges against the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, seven of its officers, and three others associated with the union for what the FWBC says was illegal conduct with regard to the Grocon dispute in Melbourne last month.
That case is seen as important for the FWBC in its efforts to disprove perceptions that it does not have sufficient regulatory power or resources to stop illegal action in the industry.
Indeed, some may see the improvement in unpaid wages recovery as further evidence that the FWBC has reallocated more resources to this area at the expense of enforcement against unlawful industrial action.
Commentators such as Australian Industry Group (AIG) chief executive Innes Willox and Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch have argued that the recovery of unpaid wages, while important, should be the responsibility of the Fair Work Ombudsman rather than the FWBC.