The Queensland government will introduce legislation to make wage theft a criminal offence.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said amendments to the state Criminal Code will be introduced to tackle wage theft head-on, following a Queensland Parliamentary inquiry.
“Our wage theft inquiry found that almost one in four Queensland workers is not receiving the pay they are entitled to,” Grace said.
“Wage theft is taking around $1.2 billion out of workers’ wages each year and more than $1 billion from workers’ superannuation.
“Enough is enough.”
Grace said employers who commit wage theft in future will be liable to a maximum term of imprisonment for 10 years for stealing or 14 years for fraud.
“The Criminal Code as it currently stands comes down very hard on workers caught with their hand in the till,” Grace said.
“But there’s no offence for unscrupulous bosses who intentionally steal from their employees or defraud them.
“These amendments will rectify that inequity and send a strong message to employers that wage theft is not acceptable – it is a crime”.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath said a new streamlined small claims process will be introduced to further support the 437,000 Queenslanders being underpaid each year.
“For workers, their first and main priority is to get back what is owed to them,” she said.
“But almost half of workers who experience wage theft don’t try to recover the monies owed to them because the process is complex and time-consuming.
“Once the new system is in place, wage recovery processes will be far simpler and more user-friendly.”
The legislation has been welcomed by cleaners’ union United Workers Union.
United Workers Union spokesperson for property services, Damien Davie, said the legislation is a step in the right direction.
“It is good to have the details of the legislation, as any changes must ensure wage thieves are being criminally prosecuted – whether the theft is a one off or ongoing, and the individuals who are responsible held accountable.
“Offences must extend to the falsification of worker records and the failure to keep worker entitlements.
“United Workers Union members are frequently victims of wage theft, feeling the impact of zombie agreements that are below award, dodgy labour hire operators, sham contracting and missing out on super and entitlements.”
It follows a landmark ruling in the Federal Court earlier this month for former cleaners and security in Queensland and Western Australia. Former Spotless Group workers won the right to be paid their redundancies after the Federal Court ruled against an appeal from the cleaning services giant.
The ruling found Spotless should not deny redundancy payments to former cleaners and security guards at Sunshine Coast Plaza Shopping Centre and Perth Airport, where the group lost cleaning and security contracts in 2014 and 2015. Spotless claimed the job cuts after the contract losses were “ordinary and customary turnover of labour” under a Fair Work Act sub-subsection and the workers were not entitled to redundancy payments.
Last month, Victoria became the first state in the country to pass laws establishing criminal penalties for employers who deliberately underpay or don’t pay their workers. 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 falsify employee entitlement records, such as payroll records, or who fail to keep employment records.
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