September 22, 2016
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In Australia a minimum or “award” wage covers all employees, to ensure that everyone is paid fairly for their work. An employer cannot contract out of paying you the award wage (as a minimum), or any statutory entitlements such as breaks, overtime, leave and redundancy.
Many employees are unaware that they are being paid below the legal minimum wage for their job. Others may be aware of it, but are too scared to say anything. However all employees have the right to be paid all of their entitlements, all of the time.
If you have been underpaid for a period of your employment, you are legally entitled to recover what you are owed.
You can determine your award wage by using the ‘Pay and Conditions Tool’ on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website or contacting the Fair work Ombudsman directly. The current national minimum wage for employees aged 21 and over is $17.70 per hour. (Different rates apply to employees with disabilities or those under an apprenticeship or traineeship).
Take a look at your contract of employment, your bank statements and pay slips and figure out how much you have actually been paid. Compare this with the award and calculate the amount that you have been underpaid.
Approach your employer with all of your pay records and request that they backpay you for the wages that are owed to you. You may find that it was merely an administrative error or a genuine mistake on the part of your employer and they are happy to correct it.
If your employer refuses to pay the owed amount, you may need to make a formal legal demand. The best way to do this is to write a letter which clearly explains what you are owed, a deadline by which the monies should be paid to you and the steps you will take if the payment is not received by the deadline.
Be sure to keep records of all communications with your employer.
If your employer is refusing to backpay you for wages, you may complain to the Fair Work Ombudsman who will investigate your complaint and arrange mediation to resolve the issues.
If you cannot resolve the dispute with your employer, and the amount you are owed is significant you may consider filing legal proceedings. If you are owed less than $20,000 the matter may be dealt with under the “small claims” procedure which is a faster and less formal court process.
Be aware that time limits apply to making claims for unpaid work entitlements, therefore it is important that you act quickly. Furthermore, making claims that you cannot substantiate against your employer can result in you having to pay their legal fees which may be significant.
For this reason it is recommended that you seek reliable legal advice as soon as possible if you discover that you have been underpaid. Contact a lawyer to discuss for your underpayment claims.