30 June 2019

Harvard Law School’s Mark Erlich and Terri Gerstein have published the results of their survey of US labour standards enforcement agencies — the equivalent of Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman. One tool they report as being particularly effective is not used by FWO: Connecticut’s Department of Labor can shut down a business until recalcitrant bosses turn over documents. It told the researchers, “If I went into a business and the workers told me they were getting paid cash, I would ask the employer for all the records. He wouldn’t send them to me and I would subpoena him. The turnaround on a basic wage and hour case was probably 3-6 months. Now they get me their records by the end of that day or the next business day. … Our average turnaround on a stop work order — and somebody did this study — was a day and a half.” By contrast, when FWO orders the production of documents, businesses have at least 14 days to comply, and they can drag out the process while continuing to trade. When FWO is abolished, its replacement agency must have the power to stop work while investigations are conducted.