[Australia] Victoria Set To Pass Oz’s First Wage Theft Laws

17 JUN 2020

The first laws in Australia to criminalize the deliberate underpayment of wages are likely to pass Victoria’s upper house as early as this week, Brisbane Times reports.

The Andrews government’s Wage Theft Bill includes considerable fines and up to 10 years in prison for rogue employers. A team of new inspectors have been empowered to police the laws.

Luke Hilakari - Victorian Trades Hall secretary - said unions were confident the legislation would pass. Labor has secured the support of at least five of the 10 upper house crossbench MPs, three were needed to carry the bill. 

“Wage theft is everywhere and it’s harmful. Some people will go to prison for this and they should,” Mr Hilakari said. “Businesses that are doing the right thing are having to compete against businesses doing the wrong thing.”

The laws - which include fines of up to $991,320 for companies, $198,264 for individuals and up to 10 years in jail - have had opposition from industry groups.

Paul Guerra - Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive  - agreed that wage theft was unacceptable but said the peak body for business did not support the introduction of these laws. He said that taken together with the federal wage theft laws expected to be introduced, state laws would duplicate “the already complex” federal workplace system.

“We need a national approach. Unnecessary and confusing state-by-state approaches will damage the business environment and discourage employment,” Mr Guerra said

Some of Australia’s largest companies have been embroiled in major scandals about their underpayment of workers, in recent years.

Investigations by The Age exposed underpayments at dozens of businesses including 7-Eleven, McDonald’s, Coles and other large franchises, high-profile restaurants and farms. Surveys by the Fair Work Ombudsman have demonstrated around half of all hospitality businesses are non-compliant with labour laws.

The Victorian Wage Inspectorate’s extensive powers will include rights to enter premises to obtain information and seize evidence and to apply for and execute search warrants. The inspectorate will also target employers falsifying wage records or dishonestly failing to keep records in order to hide wage underpayments.

Jill Hennessy - the Attorney-General - said existing laws have failed to “prevent the exploitation of Victorian workers by unscrupulous employers”.

“Employers who steal money and entitlements from their workers deserve to face the full force of the law, which will include substantial fines or jail time for the worst offenders,” Ms Hennessy continued.

“This problem is systemic; that’s why our laws will apply beyond wages and include allowances, gratuities, superannuation and other accruals such as leave, as well as ensuring directors and officers are held to account.”

Source: Brisbane Times