Labor Government to crack down on wage theft

28 May 2018

Written by: Jessica Micallef

Employers will be penalised with fines and potential jail time for ripping off workers.

Victorian bosses could potentially face jail time over wage rip-offs and worker deaths if the Victorian Labor Government is re-elected, with an election pitch designed to appeal to the blue-collar base.

The new laws – which were announced over the weekend at a Labor Party conference – could see employers face up to 10 years behind bars, with fines of almost $200,000 for individuals.

Companies who purposefully withhold wages, fail to pay superannuation, or do not keep employment records will face fines of up to $1 million.

Premier Daniel Andrews was not afraid to defend Victorian workers, saying that everyone should be held accountable no matter their job position.

“Every worker has the right to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work,” Mr Andrews said as reported by Nine News.

“Whether you’re a convenience store chain or a celebrity chef, if you deliberately and dishonestly underpay your workers, if you deny or deprive them of what is rightfully theirs, you will face jail.”

For employers whose inattention leads to death of an employee or a site visitor, WorkSafe will be responsible for prosecuting. Employers will ultimately face fines of almost $16 million and 20 years behind bars.

“I don’t think anyone deliberately sets out to kill people at work, but there is employers who take shortcuts, they did all sorts of things to make an extra buck… and it leads to people dying,” Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union Victorian secretary John Setka said as reported by Nine News.

The Fair Work Ombudsman launched investigations against some of Melbourne’s most well-known food venues for allegedly underpaying staff, with Vue de monde, founded by celebrity chef Shannon Bennet, being accused of not paying staff for up to 40 hours of overtime a week and confiscating tips to cover breakages.

However, Australian Industry Group chief Innes Willox says the changes are unnecessary and already covered by the federal law.

“Criminalising underpayments and labelling underpayments as ‘theft’ would deter business owners from employing people and investing,” he said.

Labor said it would consult with employers and unions over the proposed laws.