QLD Business Owners Need More Protection From Wage Theft Laws

Published September 17, 2020 -
employer dealing with the new queensland wage theft laws

More safeguards need to be implemented in Queensland to help protect small business owners from new wage theft laws, according to Employsure, Australia’s largest workplace relations advisor.

Employers found to be deliberately underpaying their staff could be jailed for up to 10 years, or fined almost $1 million, under new laws passed through State Parliament.

But for those employers who have made an honest mistake when paying their staff, they now run the risk of being labelled criminals.

“We object to the characterisation of small business owners as thieves,” said Employsure Managing Director Ed Mallett.

“Businesses, both large and small, have had to wade through an already difficult system to ensure they are doing right by their employees. As a result, wage underpayment is one of the biggest issues that is still affecting employers across the country. You see in the news on almost a weekly basis big companies failing to pay their employees correctly.

“This new legislation has been designed to catch employers who are deliberately doing the wrong thing, but for most business owners, if they were to make an honest mistake when paying staff, they now run the risk of criminal action.

“These are hardworking people who have already lost so much this year from the COVID-19 pandemic. They have taken a risk by starting a business, and now are at their own risk with no protection.”

According to its 2018-19 annual report, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $40 million for 18,000 underpaid employees and secured more than $4.4 million in court-ordered penalties.

Almost a quarter of all calls to Employsure’s advice line are in regard to employee entitlements, and the issue of ‘wages’ stands out as a key area of confusion.

“Queensland’s Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace has admitted small business owners who make a mistake can defend themselves from prosecution, but it shouldn’t have to come to that,” said Mr Mallett.

“What we need to see is the creation of a Small Business Award, a really simple set of rules for those who employ 15 or less full-time equivalents. This is something the Small Business Ombudsman has been promoting as well.

“While there is a lot of detail to get right, the idea should be implemented in a way so that SMEs can have one place, instead of a myriad of places to go to, to ensure they’re operating correctly. Some small businesses at the moment can end up with multiple awards and pay rates, which is the core confusion behind problems such as underpayments.

“This issue needs to be handled in ways that gives small business owners the protection they need in a difficult system. If big businesses can’t get it right, what hope is there for small business?”

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