Theft can land you in prison for 10 years in Australia, and now the industrial relations minister plans to debate whether similar penalties should apply to those who steal from their employees by wage underpayment.
Industrial relations minister and attorney-general Christian Porter will on Thursday (19 September) release a discussion paper on the repercussions for wage theft. The paper will consider whether criminal sanctions and jail time are necessary.
However, Porter has said heavy penalties will be waived for “genuine mistakes”.
“These new criminal penalties should rightly apply only to the most serious types of offending where there is clear evidence of persistent or repeat offending, or offending on a significant scale," he said.
"We recognise that the industrial relations system is complex and we need to ensure that any new penalty regime is fit for purpose and avoids any unintended consequences.
"For example, we do not want employers who make genuine mistakes and move swiftly to rectify them to end up with a criminal record."
The discussion paper comes just days after the owner of a Coffee Club franchise in Geelong was taken to court for allegedly underpaying two young workers more than $15,000.
And it follows the news that celebrity chef George Calombaris had underpaid 515 workers $7.8 million. That revelation came after a four-year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman into Calombaris’ company.
However, it’s not just wages - employers have also been accused of underpaying workers by cutting superannuation payments.
The federal government on Wednesday (18 September) reintroduced a bill that would give employers two years to disclose any underpayment of superannuation and avoid any sanctions.
According to Industry Super Australia, workers are losing $5.9 billion in superannuation due to underpayment.
Related story: Second go at laws for unpaid super amnesty
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the underpayment was theft, and the amnesty was an “insult to all Australian workers”.
“This amnesty will not recover the billions which have been stolen from workers since the beginning of the superannuation system. It’s a farce set up by a government obsessed with helping business find new ways to exploit workers,” McManus said.
“In a week where Alan Joyce is taking home 275 times the pay of the average worker, the government is letting dodgy bosses get away with stealing from workers’ super.”
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