Deliberate wage theft will now be a criminal offence in Queensland after laws passed through State Parliament today.
Queensland Council of Unions Assistant General Secretary Jacqueline King welcomed the new laws, saying making wage theft a crime would send a strong message to employers who deliberately steal from their workers.
The amendments to the state’s Criminal Code criminalised wage theft and also streamlined the system for workers to reclaim underpayments.
She said the state LNP had no credibility on stronger wage theft laws as it had previously voted against an inquiry into wage theft and submitted a statement of reservation about the proposed laws in a committee report.
“Now they expect Queenslanders to believe that they are on the side of workers. We believe the LNP plans to repeal these laws if they ever get the chance.
“They might also hope that the federal Coalition comes in over the top and lodges a court appeal against these stronger wage theft laws,” she said.
“However the LNP spins it, Queensland workers will not believe this latest Frecklington flip-flop.
“Almost one in five Queensland workers has experienced wage theft. The problem of wage theft has grown to a staggering amount, in Queensland alone estimated at around $1.3 billion annually in wages and another $1.1 billion in superannuation,” said Ms King.
“Under the federal Coalition we’ve seen an explosion in the number of high-profile operations that seem to have incorporated employee underpayment into their business plans.
“The stories are no longer about dodgy small business operators ripping off workers. We’re now seeing big corporate Australia getting caught out, with the likes of Woolworths, Qantas and even the ABC failing to apply diligence to wage compliance,” she said.
Under the Criminal Code changes, employers who commit serious and deliberate wage theft will face up to 10 years in jail for stealing, or 14 years in jail for fraud.
“Making serious and deliberate wage theft a criminal offence shows that Queensland is serious about stamping out wage theft,” said Ms King.
“Queensland unions heard hundreds of wage theft experiences from workers when we were developing our submissions for these laws and we hope these workers can achieve some justice.
“Unions have successfully called for the introduction of labour hire licensing, making industrial manslaughter punishable by jail, and now it’s great to see that deliberate wage theft will be criminalised,” she said.