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Australian workers have received a share of half a billion dollars as the Fair Work watchdog continues its pursuit of businesses with dodgy pay practices.

Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) recovered a staggering $509 million for 251,475 underpaid workers in 2022-23, the watchdog announced in a statement on Monday.

More than half of the recoveries came from large corporate and university employers, who together back-paid more than $317 million to more than 160,000 underpaid employees.

It was the second consecutive year that more than half a billion dollars in back-payments were recovered and the second-largest annual figure on record.

The FWO filed 81 litigations in 2022-23, including two against the University of Melbourne that are continuing before the Federal Court, marking the first time a university was litigated against by the FWO.

The watchdog entered into 15 enforceable undertaking with businesses, recovering $40.3 million for the underpaid employees of corporations including Suncorp, Australian Unity, David Jones, Politix, Crown Melbourne and Perth, Charles Sturt University, the University of Newcastle and University of Technology Sydney.

The FWO also secured nearly $3.7 million in court-ordered penalties in the year, almost $1.5 million of which was from cases that involved exploited migrant workers.

FWO Anna Booth said the impressive recovery result was due to the watchdog’s targeting of historic underpayments by large employers.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman has created a firmer culture of accountability and an environment that expects Australia’s largest employers to prioritise compliance,” Ms Booth said.

“These efforts, including prioritising both the large corporates and university sectors, and combining stronger, targeted compliance and enforcement action across our work, have led to more wages returned to workers’ pockets.

“Our investigations and enforcement actions send a clear message — all employers must place a higher priority on ensuring they are meeting all their workers’ lawful entitlements, including by improving their payroll and governance and investing in advice.”

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By Rahul

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