Queensland Unions have welcomed today’s state government announcement of legislation making deliberate wage theft a criminal offence, vindicating an intense union campaign to stamp out worker exploitation.
Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Michael Clifford said making wage theft a crime would send a message to dodgy bosses that they would face significant jail terms if found guilty.
The Palaszczuk Government will next month introduce amendments to the state’s Criminal Code to criminalise wage theft, as well as streamline systems for workers to reclaim underpayments.
“For too long the federal government has sat on its hands as 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 Mr Clifford.
“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 Woolies, Coles, Bunnings and the Commonwealth Bank failing to apply diligence to wage compliance,” he said.
He also welcomed plans for a new streamlined small claims process through the Industrial Magistrates Court for the 437,000 Queenslanders being underpaid each year but wanted to see the detail of the proposal to ensure it was a simple and practical process for workers to redeem unpaid wages and entitlements.
“This is one of the most practical and important things for workers to recover their wages compared to the current complex and time-consuming process through the Fair Work Ombudsman,” he said.
“The FWO is ill-equipped to deal with the scale of wage theft occurring in this country. It refers individuals to a legalistic process they can ill afford or know how to navigate.
“The best way to stop wage and super theft is to allow unions to once again conduct compliance checks in workplaces to end this epidemic of ripping off workers.”
Under the proposed 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 Mr Clifford.
“We’ve been intensely engaging with affected workers on this issue hearing about hundreds of experiences of wage theft through our website and our Young Workers Hub.
“Unions have successfully called for the introduction of labour hire licensing, making industrial manslaughter punishable by jail, and now it’s time to bring wage theft into the Criminal Code,” he said.