‘Disturbing findings’: industry slammed by ombudsman

A Fair Work Ombudsman has launched a scathing review of the real estate industry claiming that the number of unscrupulous practitioners is still too high.

Queensland Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James is urging employer organisations and large real estate brands to help drive behavioural change after she said that education in the industry is not her agency’s job alone.

In 2011, the Fair Work Ombudsman audited 156 Queensland real estate industry employers on staff pay agreements.

The results found that less than half were compliant, prompting a follow-up campaign last year.

Of 279 employers scrutinised by the Ombudsman 82 per cent had complied with the requirement to lodge pay agreements for staff with the Queensland Property Industry Registry.

While encouraged by the turn-around, Ms James says there are still some disturbing findings by Fair Work inspectors looking into complaints against non-payment of minimum entitlements to commission-based staff.

Ms James even suggested pitting competitors against one another as an option to improve the standards.

“Most real estate companies would want the poor practices among their competitors exposed and remedied ... so we need to harness that attitude to bring about improvement and a level playing field for all,” she said.

Just last week, the former operators of a Gold Coast real estate company were fined a total of $56,000 for underpaying three salespeople a total of $41,472 in commissions between October 2009 and February 2011.

They were also underpaid their minimum weekly wages and annual leave entitlements.

Adrian Parsons, principal of Total Project Marketing (before it went into liquidation last year) and his wife Karen Parsons have each been fined $28,000.

Judge Michael Jarrett found that the underpayments were caused by Mr and Mrs Parsons seeking to increase the profitability of the real estate company “at the expense of its employees”.

He said there was need for a penalty to deter the couple from similar future conduct and also “an apparent need for the general deterrence of the common disregard of industrial instruments in the real estate industry”. 

Ms James cited two other incidents in the past year that have tarnished the image of agents.

In June last year the operators of Lovers of Property Pty Ltd were fined a total of $27,720 by the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane for paying a salesman just $100 for five months' work, and another case in February this year with Centenary Suburbs Sales and Management after it underpaid a sales consultant more than $16,000 over seven months.

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