Foreign currency exchange business forced to pay back $1.3m to workers

“We have proactively remedied the majority of the contraventions and are in the process of complying with our obligations under the enforceable undertaking with the FWO,” the spokesman said. “We are grateful to the FWO for their support and guidance in addressing these contraventions.”


A Queensland branch employee on a student visa first raised underpayment concerns in late 2015 followed by two other workers from Adelaide. The ombudsman then launched an investigation.

It found three workers from India were paid flat rates that led to underpayment or non-payment of minimum rates for ordinary hours, casual loadings and penalty rates.

The Queensland worker received flat hourly rates of between $15.38 and $20.42 between 2011 and 2015. The worker was entitled to hourly base rates including casual loadings of up to $23.74, up to $37.98 for Sunday hours and $52.22 on public holidays under the relevant award, the General Retail Industry Award 2010.

The ombudsman said the company had back-paid the three workers $100,253 in total, with individual payments ranging from $21,319, to $52,269 for the Queensland worker. An external audit for the period January 2011 to June 2017 found 240 workers were owed a combined $1,235,411.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said enforceable undertakings ensured past and present workers received back-payments quicker than if court action were required.

This action serves as a warning to global businesses that if you don’t get your workplace compliance in order, you can be left with a massive back-payment bill.

“Under the enforceable undertaking, UAE Exchange is required to make major improvements to its workplace practices, with current and future workers to benefit. This action serves as a warning to global businesses that if you don’t get your workplace compliance in order, you can be left with a massive back-payment bill,” Ms Parker said.

The Finance Sector Union recently launched a test case over minimum pay rates for UAE workers, challenging the ombudsman’s advice they should be covered by the lower-paying retail award.

The FSU has filed Federal Court action against UAE alleging it shifted its tellers and managers from the banking award to the retail award last year to take advantage of cuts to penalty rates. The case will help determine the extent to which the retail award applies to currency exchange businesses that serve the public and are connected to businesses in the banking or finance industry.

The FWO provides advice on its website that says the banking award covers businesses that provide currency exchange to, or on behalf of, businesses in the banking, finance and insurance industry, rather than to the public. The retail award “covers a foreign currency exchange business that provides services to members of the public on a retail basis”.

The FWO issued the advice following its investigations into UAE.

Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter. Her reports on inequity in schools funding led to the Gonski reforms and won her national awards. Her coverage of health exposed unnecessary patient deaths at Campbelltown Hospital and led to judicial and parliamentary inquiries. At The Times of London, she exposed flaws in international medical trials.

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