Employers Could Be Jailed For Wage Theft Under New Victorian Laws

Published August 26, 2019 (last updated July 20, 2020) -

Employers in Victoria found to be exploiting workers could be subject to harsher penalties under news laws.

The state government in Victoria is acting on an election promise to make underpayment of wages, withholding of penalty rates, superannuation and leave a criminal offence.

According to the Herald Sun, employers could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and jail terms of up to ten years if they exploit workers.

The new laws will also give workers quicker and easier access to their owed money.

Before tabling the new laws, the state government has scheduled a number of forums for employer groups and unions to submit feedback to the proposed laws. The first such forum was held in Northcote last week.

Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessey says the news laws would “hold employers accountable”.

“A fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work is a simple concept and yet many hardworking Victorians are still underpaid and exploited,” she said.

“The Andrews Labor Government is introducing new wage theft offences to hold employers accountable, and fast-tracking court processes to help workers recover their entitlements.”

The discussion of worker exploitation laws come in the wake of George Calombaris’ MAdE Establishment restaurant group self-reporting themselves to the Fair Work Ombudsman for underpaying workers $7.8m over six years.

When wage theft laws were first proposed, Employsure’s Senior Employment Relations Adviser Michael Wilkinson was concerned with the fairness of any wage theft laws.

“There’s more than 122 Awards in the Australia workplace relations system. For some businesses, even small ones, they may have to comply with more than one award.

“It’s not the minimum wage or award rate that’s the most difficult part, but many employees struggle with the myriad entitlements, and varying rates throughout the time of week and time of day.

“Big companies with huge HR teams, like Qantas, still manage to not be 100% accurate. How can we reasonably expect [small and medium enterprises] to be?

“Most employers want to do the right thing. Most problems arise because of misunderstandings about the application of the law, rather than a blatant disregard for it.

“The key objective of governments in this space should be to make it as easy as possible for employers and employees to know their rights. The compliance system needs to be sufficiently robust to deter the small proportion of employers who would be tempted to do the wrong thing.”

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