Unions back recommendation to jail dodgy employers for wage theft

Queensland Unions have backed an in-principle recommendation to jail dodgy employers who deliberately or recklessly underpay workers.

The recommendation was one of 17 contained in the State Government’s response to a Parliamentary committee inquiry into wage theft released today.

Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan said the scourge of wage theft affects the entire community: workers, families, law-abiding businesses and the wider economy.

“Criminalisation of wage theft is a real deterrent for those employers and organisations that think ripping off their workers is a business model,” she said.

She also supported Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace’s attack today on the federal Morrison government for failing to address wage theft.

“Wage theft is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of Queensland workers, with a recent report identifying that about one in five Queensland workers are likely to have not been paid their full wages and entitlements,” said Ms McLennan.

“Andreas”, an 18-year-old waiter who contacted the Young Workers Hub, was paid $10/hr cash in hand working in Sunnybank.

He welcomed the announcement and said: “It will be harder for employers to exploit young people like me.” 

The Committee report revealed that wage theft is costing Queensland workers up to $1.22 billion in lost wages and $1.12 billion in lost superannuation every year.

Ms McLennan said the state jurisdiction had a vital role in stamping out wage theft, pointing to similar crackdowns against dodgy labour hire operators.

“The LNP refuses to act on wage theft and has abandoned workers. Its response has been to deny and minimise the issue, and then sidestep any responsibility. It shamelessly puts its pursuit of workers and their representatives ahead of the scourge of wage theft and worker underpayment.

“Employer organisations acting in the interests of their own members should also support the State government cracking down on dodgy operators who use wage theft to undercut those employers doing the right thing.”

Ms McLennan said evidence from workers to the QCU clearly demonstrated that wage theft was not confined to underpaying backpackers or young workers.

Today’s response was strongly backed by the union representing Queensland contracting workers, including cleaners, security and hospitality.

United Voice Queensland President Sharron Caddie said the union had made a joint submission to the inquiry calling for wage theft to be made a crime.

“United Voice members are too frequently victims of wage theft, feeling the impacts of outdated agreements that are below award, dodgy labour hire operators, sham contracting and missing out on super and entitlements,” Ms Caddie said.

“We welcome the State Government’s commitment today to take action on all recommendations made in the Parliamentary Inquiry,” she said.

“We now need the Federal LNP Government to come to the table to see many of these recommendations rolled out.”

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