Ask LH: How Can I Report Underpaid Work Anonymously?

Ask LH: How Can I Report Underpaid Work Anonymously?

Dear Lifehacker, I have recently taken on a new job and began frequenting a nearby cafe. The cafe employs a lot of people from overseas and after talking with a few of them, I discovered they are being grossly underpaid, and mostly paid cash in hand. They are all in Australia on either student or sponsorship visas and are concerned that if they speak up, they will be deported from the country. Is there any way I can anonymously report the cafe to Fair Work Australia for this? Thanks, Undercover Underpaid Investigator

Dear UUI,

That’s well dodgy. Cafe owners should not be paying anyone cash in hand – in addition to underpaying employees, the manager is probably dodging tax responsibilities as well. If the employees aren’t on the books, they’ve also effectively lost all worker rights. Fortunately, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) makes it easy to report these infractions anonymously.

FWO has an online form that anyone can use to file an anonymous report. Options include underpayments, penalty rates, record keeping and pay slips – I suggest the employees fill out separate forms for all these issues.

For swift results, the employees should include the business’ trading name and Australian Business Number (ABN) in the report. This should be easy enough to sniff out – either through the cafe’s website or a sympathetic colleague’s payslip.

The FWO won’t contact the employees after they make a report but the information will be passed on to other Commonwealth, State or Territory bodies where it’s likely to help with the administration or enforcement of a law. You can also make a report with the Australian Taxation Office here for receiving job for cash wages, without payslips or superannuation entitlements.

The government takes a very dim view of business owners who don’t pay their workers properly – if your suspicions are correct, they can expect to be slapped with hefty fines and will be required to rectify the issue immediately.


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  • Dear UUI and Lifehacker. Are you nuts? If you report the business, the people you want to help will loose their jobs. This is common and every foreigner has been or still is underpaid. That’s the reality. If they didn’t want to do that, they would go home. Want to help? Next time when your Indian taxi drive gives you a lift, Chinese lady makes your dish and a Korean guy makes you a coffee, give them a proper tip. Cheers

    • That would not fix the problem, nor punish the business owners for taking advantage of workers.
      If business owners are pulled into line, and these workers have the right to legally work in Australia, they should be able to find similar work with proper pay/rights.
      If they are not legally permitted to work here, then they need to apply for the proper visas before finding any more work.

      I used to work at a cafe that underpaid almost everyone in cash, I still regret not reporting them when I had the chance- the business having since been sold.

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