Phones run hot with work gripes

more workers than ever complain about work

By Elizabeth Allen

Unhappy workers and confused employers have flooded federal and state workplace ombudsmen with a record number of complaints and inquiries.

State Workplace Rights Ombudsman Don Brown said yesterday his office had received a record 6000 inquiries last month – the number it was set up to handle in 12 months.

The State Workplace Rights Hotline has taken more than 20,000 calls this financial year, while more than 16,000 Queenslanders have voiced their concerns to the federal Workplace Ombudsman Helpline.

Mr Brown said he first noticed the onslaught of inquiries after the 2007 federal election.

"I thought the heat would go out of industrial relations but the number of inquiries has increased noticeably," he said.

Inquiries to the state Workplace Rights Hotline have jumped from 20,000 last financial year to more than 20,000 already this year.

The hottest topics are redundancy, sackings, wages and superannuation, workplace harassment, health and safety issues and confusion over state or federal coverage.

Mr Brown said a growing trend was for employers to impose dubious conditions in contracts.

"It appears some employers are unfairly forcing workers, who are often young and unfamiliar with workplace practices, to pay costs that a fair employer would regard as normal business expenses," he said.

Mr Brown said an employee of a transport and courier business at Belmont, on Brisbane’s southside, had been asked to pay an insurance excess of $1200 after he had an accident in his employer’s truck during work hours.

But Mr Brown said an employee should only be asked to pay if wilful negligence was proven.

The driver, David Ellis, 20, of bayside Manly, said he had not been given any training by his employer to drive the two-tonne truck. "After the accident he went off at me and said I had to pay the excess back," he said.

Meanwhile, complaints by Queenslanders to the federal Workplace Ombudsman, who has the power to enforce federal laws, have jumped from 14,000 last financial year to more than 16,000 so far this year.

The federal ombudsman has recovered $5.4 million for 12,000 underpaid Queenslanders this year – double the $2.7 million recouped in 2006-07.

Queensland director Julie Wade said: "We are very serious in pursuing the recovery of entitlements and the imposition of penalties through the courts where we find that employers are not paying their workers as they should."

The Courier-Mail


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