Government must send clear message that wage theft will not be tolerated

Greens spokesperson for Industrial Relations Hon Alison Xamon MLC has called on the Government to send a clear message to employers that wage theft will NOT be tolerated – and to prioritise the introduction of criminal offences against employers who exploit workers through underpayment of wages and entitlements.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday night, Hon Xamon said news stories about wage theft scandals had been frustratingly common over the past 18 months.

She said Westfarmers; Subway; Sunglass Hut; the ABC; IMB Australia; Qantas; the Commonwealth Bank, Maurice Blackburn, and Michael Hill International had all been guilty of wage theft recently, sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars in wages; superannuation, allowances and entitlements.  

“In July it was a $7.8 million underpayment by George Calombaris’ companies; in August defence manufacturer Thales paid out more than $7.6 million after under-paying workers over seven years; in September Bunnings admitted to underpaying superannuation for some of its part time workers over eight years; in October it emerged that Woolworths had underpaid employees by up to $300 million over almost a decade,” Ms Xamon said, “and these are only the ones that we know about.

“No sectors are untouched – and If these big employers are doing the wrong thing, how many smaller employers might be stealing wages and haven’t been caught?

“At a time when the unions are being weakened, the chance of employers being caught is even less likely.”

Hon Xamon said it was absolutely unacceptable that employers across the country continued to engage in exploitative behaviour, often affecting the most vulnerable and low-paid workers, including migrants; people on visas; young people; students; women; people with disabilities; older workers; Aboriginal workers; early school leavers and those returning to the workforce.

She said wage theft was associated with low wage growth – an additional blow at a time when most workers haven’t seen a decent pay rise in more than five years.

“Complacent attitudes have allowed wage theft to continue for far too long – there must now be a zero tolerance approach to this very important issue,” Ms Xamon said.

“The Government must send a clear message that this will NOT be tolerated.

“It must introduce criminal charges for employers who steal wages, and an easy and timely process for workers to recover stolen wages.”

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