Employers who deliberately underpay or don’t pay their workers will face up to 10 years jail under new laws introduced into state parliament in Victoria.
The Wage Theft Bill 2020 will establish new criminal offences targeting employers who deliberately withhold wages and other employee entitlements.
Employers who dishonestly withhold wages, superannuation or other employee entitlements, will face fines of up to $198,264 for individuals, $991,320 for companies and up to 10 years jail.
Offences will also capture employers who dishonestly falsify employee entitlement records, such as payroll records, or who dishonestly fail to keep employment records.
The new record keeping offences are aimed at employers who attempt to conceal wage theft by falsifying or failing to keep records.
They ensure employers will not be able to avoid being held accountable through dishonest record keeping practices.
The legislation will establish the Wage Inspectorate of Victoria as a statutory authority with powers to investigate and prosecute wage theft offences.
Employers who make honest mistakes or who exercise due diligence in paying wages and employee entitlements will not be guilty of wage theft offences under these laws.
Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said the new laws and inspectorate body will hold employers accountable.
“The existing legal regime has failed to prevent the exploitation of Victorian workers by unscrupulous employers.
“These laws and the new inspectorate body will hold employers accountable – workers should never be put in a situation where they need to make a complaint just to be paid properly,” Pallas said.
The new law has been welcomed by industry body the Building Service Contractors Association of Australia (BSCAA).
“These new laws ensure a level playing field for compliant employers and safeguards our valued employees from dishonest employers,” Kim Puxty, national president of the BSCAA, said.
“Genuine mistakes happen as businesses navigate through the complexity of the award system, it is important that employers seek the assistance they need to ensure they are compliant.
“The BSCAA provides their members with IR advice and encourages all employers to seek professional support if they are in doubt.”
Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said 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.
“This problem is systematic – 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.”
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