The workplace umpire will aim to avoid business closures as it enforces underpayment laws during the coronavirus pandemic.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker says industrial laws will be enforced in a proportionate manner during the disease-led recession.
“We will hold to account those who engage in non-compliance or systemic exploitative conduct, but the main thing is to ensure workers keep their jobs,” she told ABC radio on Monday.
But businesses are being warned the change in approach will not allow them to get off the hook.
“During the pandemic, we will still enforce the law,” Ms Parker said.
“That means if businesses don’t work cooperatively with us we will take them to court and we have been doing that during COVID-19.
“But we still expect them to pay back the money. There’s to be no reprieve on that.”
In the past 18 months, 60 companies have handed themselves in for underpaying workers.
Ms Parker said the level of non-compliance was disappointing and had forced her to assign a special task force to the issue.
“The larger companies are on our radar,” she said.
“The main thing there is for them to work with us and to make sure the money is back in the hands of workers as quickly as possible.”
Ms Parker said companies self reporting often underestimated the scale of the problem.
Woolworths’ underpayment bill has blown out to $390 million, far more than the $300 million originally reported.
More than 60,000 calls have been made to the Fair Work Ombudsman’s coronavirus hotline with the focus initially on standing workers down, taking leave and working from home.
Ms Parker said the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme brought relief to the tone of the calls.
As of last week there had been 638 requests for help with JobKeeper, with 400 resolved.
A formal compliance notice was issued in one case, while the remaining matters are still being considered.
“Everyone is working really, really hard to support employers and employees during this shocking time,” Ms Parker said.
Australian Associated Press