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Wage theft inquiry report calls for criminalisation

Queensland Unions have welcomed today’s Parliamentary inquiry report which recommends criminalising wage theft and changing laws to make it easier for workers to reclaim stolen wages.

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.

“We also support recommended changes to legislation to create an industrial division of the Magistrates Court to make it easier for workers to pursue bosses for stolen wages.

Today’s report made other key recommendations for the Australian government, including:

  • treating superannuation contributions like any employment entitlement,
  • automatic termination of “zombie” employment agreements at a certain date,
  • a review of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The QCU submission to the Inquiry called for creation of an industrial division of the Magistrates Court, based on the Victorian model, as well as criminal charges for employers who engage in deliberate underpayment.

“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 is likely to have not been paid their full wages and entitlements,” said Ms McLennan.

Today’s 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.”

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

“The business practices of some major companies have been exposed as complicit in underpayment of workers. It can’t go on and the QCU supports action to end wage theft,” she said.