Hundreds of Australian businesses are under investigation for allegedly exploiting employees through JobKeeper, exclusive data has revealed.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will announce an extension of JobKeeper under a two-tiered system, with reports payments will be cut while also tightening rules for businesses to apply.
An investigation into the scheme by The New Daily revealed that it is ripe for rorting, with employees alleging they’ve been forced to work more shifts than they’re paid and ‘work back’ sick days.
On average, there are 18 Australian businesses a day who have come under investigation for alleged exploitation of employees according to exclusive data obtained from the ATO and the Fair Work Ombudsman.
And that number could be just the tip of the iceberg, with many employees too scared to come forward, industry advocates say.
Since JobKeeper was introduced at the end of March, the ATO has had to chase up 1800 employers for breaching JobKeeper regulations.
The main issues are disagreements over employee eligibility, including the ‘one in all in’ principle, annual leave, payment issues and allegations that employers are not passing on the full amount.
Although the ATO is the main body in charge of administering the scheme, the Fair Work Ombudsman has been investigating cases relating to employees receiving minimum wage.
Since the beginning of the scheme, the FWO has dealt with 405 disputes pertaining to employers not paying their staff properly.
“As of 9 July 2020, the FWO has received 638 JobKeeper-related requests for assistance,” an FWO spokesperson said.
“Of these, 405 have already been resolved through education and advice, with employers generally quick to rectify any errors in their compliance with the JobKeeper provisions.
“Only one request to date has required the use of a formal compliance notice to resolve. The remaining matters are under consideration.
“We have helped to recover $58,407 for employees so far.”
JobKeeper cases have mainly related to alleged underpayments, annual leave and general workplace rights, and have mostly affected people working in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food service.
Since JobKeeper’s implementation, it has been mired in confusion with an average of 62 Australians, both employers and employees, calling the ATO’s tip-off line each day.
“The ATO has received 6168 tip-offs related to the JobKeeper scheme in relation to 4600 unique entities,” an ATO spokesperson said.
“This difference acknowledges that multiple tip-offs are received for some entities and some tip-offs do not provide sufficient detail to identify an entity.”
The New Daily has heard from workers across the country who have had issues with being underpaid or overworked.
One regional NSW woman said she was bullied into working seven shifts instead of her usual four.
“I tried to have a reasonable discussion with my employer,” she said.
“I asked for the seven shifts to be put in writing and he told me that he wouldn’t. I tried to tell him that what he was doing was not right and that I was not saying I wouldn’t work my shifts, just not seven.
“At this point, he got very angry and told me I was off JobKeeper.
“That last shift I worked, he stood over me in a bullying and intimidating manner that made me feel very uncomfortable.
“I had been employed there for over four years. This had never happened before.”
United Workers Union national secretary Tim Kennedy said this would be ‘‘just the tip of the iceberg’’ as many employees are too scared to come forward with stories of abuse.
“We’ve got examples of stories coming to us, wherein some instances claims have been made and employers have ghosted people, so put them on the books and left,” he said.
“We’ve heard stories of employers skimming some off the top, and the most common was that workplaces where those who are on JobKeeper were required to move their hours from 14 hours a week to full time and every else didn’t get any work.
“It’s inequitable because the boss gets to decide who is legitimate and who is not. We’re dealing with employers in hospitality, farmwork, and wage theft is rampant, worker exploitation is rampant in those areas.
“Here we are putting the fox in charge of the hen house.”