Excess use of free ‘Work trials’ doesn’t add up

Two shop assistants were subjected to an unwarranted number of work trials by a NSW retail business, a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation has found. Mario and Mirna Tamer, the former owners of Fancy Fruits retail shop at Thirroul, in the Illawarra region, have admitted they often used unpaid trials as part of their recruitment process.The Fair Work Ombudsman commenced an investigation last September after receiving requests for assistance from two shop assistants, both of whom left Fancy Fruits after contacting the Fair Work Ombudsman for help.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the two former shop assistants had worked multiple shifts, performing work for which they had received only partial payment. Mr Tamer told the Fair Work Ombudsman he usually gave shop assistants $20 per trial to cover their expenses, but was not aware he was required to pay wages.


David Bates, Managing Director of Workforce Guardian ?a leading HR and employment relations service that specialises in assisting small to medium businesses achieve HR best-practice told C&I WEEK that the issues arising from such arrangements are not uncommon. “Workforce Guardian’s HR consultants routinely hear from retail employers who are confused about free ‘work trials’, and ‘work experience’ more generally,” he said.

Mr Bates cautioned that, “An unpaid work trial will generally be fine provided it only lasts as long as necessary for the employee to demonstrate they’re able to do the job. In a retail environment, this could be in as little as an hour. Asking anyone to work longer than one shift without payment is likely to be considered ‘unreasonable’.

“Unpaid trials are a great way to make sure an applicant will be a good fit for the job, but they should never be used as a source of ‘cheap labour’. Employers who try to use unpaid trials to their financial advantage are likely to be investigated and prosecuted, and this could cause irreparable damage to their hard-won reputation. In the highly competitive world of retail, this could be devastating,” Mr Bates said.

In Fancy Fruits case, the business ceased trading on November 28 last year. Fair Work inspectors determined that the two should have been classified as employees and were entitled to receive the appropriate wages for the time they worked, and also concluded that “the number and length of the unpaid trials were inappropriate for retail positions”.

An audit of all Fancy Fruits employees concluded that three other shop assistants had been underpaid their casual loading by amounts ranging from $1.31 to $4.40 an hour and that Mr and Mrs Tamer also failed to keep appropriate employee records and issue payslips.

Collectively the five shop assistants were underpaid a total of $4435 between September 2013 and October 2014. Individual underpayments ranged from $250 to $1552. Following discussions with the Fair Work Ombudsman, Fancy Fruits has reimbursed all outstanding entitlements and signed an Enforceable Undertaking.

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