Real estate employee paid $9 per hour, workplace investigation finds

In a shocking recent case of employee exploitation, workplace investigators were at the forefront of examining a matter that involved gross underpayment of staff, bringing the case to the attention of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

A Sydney Morning Herald report has detailed how a Melbourne real estate agency was ordered to repay $5,000 in unpaid wages, after a court found it guilty of paying a foreign worker just $9 per hour. Despite having responsibility for drafting contracts, assisting buyers, and conducting general administration duties, employers told workplace investigators that they “believed the employee was being paid correctly as an intern”.

The employee was earning less than $375 per week. At present, the national minimum wage is $17.70 per hour, or $672.70 a week.

Migrant workers in Australia are the most commonly exploited members of the workforce. Foreign workers often have a limited understanding of their rights in Australia, which leaves them susceptible to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Responding to the case, and others like it, Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James offered a reminder to all Australian employers and employees that “we have minimum pay rates in Australia, they apply to everyone, and they are not negotiable”.

Several other major incidents of exploitation have also recently been investigated, with some culpable companies forced to pay back thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and potential penalties.

The successful prosecution of such cases of illegal workplace behaviour are typically the result of efforts of specialist and impartial workplace investigators. Workplace investigations are undertaken to collect and review information related to a complaint of inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, and to produce a judgment with regards to the details of the case.


A thorough workplace investigation process generally follows four main steps:

1. Information collection
2. Conducting interviews of parties involved
3. Establishing a finding and producing a report
4. Recommending appropriate responses for resolution.

The role of workplace investigator carries considerable responsibilities and for this reason, the appointment of an investigator should be considered carefully, particularly when deciding whether an investigator from within the company should be appointed, or whether it is more appropriate to source an investigator from an external provider.

There are a number of factors to keep in mind, including:

1. Will your appointee be impartial?
2. Does your in-house candidate have the necessary skill and experience to complete the task effectively?
3. Will your appointee have the time required to complete a thorough investigation, without pulling focus from other tasks?

iHR Australia, a leading provider of expert and independent workplace investigation services, can offer a broad range of services to support organisations in this regard, from addressing an informal complaint, to undertaking significant and complex formal investigations. iHR investigators are focused, sensitive and impartial throughout.
As senior HR and Employee Relations professionals with a minimum of 15 years’ experience, iHR workplace investigators offer experience and expertise. Several members of the investigations team also have legal qualifications and experience. To date, iHR has conducted hundreds of workplace investigations across a diverse range of industries, including private sector, not-for-profit and government organisations.

iHR can also review workplace investigations conducted internally and offer expert advice or recommendations. Additionally, iHR offers expert Workplace Investigation Officer training, should you wish to establish a workplace investigator within your organisation. This course is facilitated by iHR’s expert Senior Investigator, who will guide participants through the key principles of conducting a lawful workplace investigation.