The Senate is planning to stage a federal inquiry into wage theft, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The upper house voted on Wednesday this week to refer the ongoing ‘wage theft’ dispute to the ongoing Senate economics reference committee. That committee has three Labor and two Liberal members, with one other member coming from the Centre Alliance.
The inquiry will look at wage and superannuation underpayments and investigate the methods of recovering unpaid entitlements.
Labor senator Alex Gallacher, the chairman of the wage theft inquiry, says that the committee “won’t be shy” in demanding answers from business leaders.
“We will take the inquiry wherever it can go in the terms of reference,” Senator Gallacher told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
“We won’t be shy about calling any and all chief executives if they’ve got a problem.
“We’ll shine a light wherever we can.”
The Morrison Government opposes the inquiry, with Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam saying that, although the government has “zero tolerance” to worker exploitation, it wasn’t necessary to “[have] yet another talkfest”.
“Action is what’s needed and action is precisely what’s happening,” Senator Duniam said, as he told the Senate the Government was increasing funding to and boosting the powers of the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The inquiry comes in the wake of Woolworths’ reported $300m underpayment to workers, as well as a host of well-known brands and businesses being under the underpayment lens.
Sunglass Hut, Bunnings, Wesfarmers’ Industrial Division, Super Retail Group (owner of Rebel Sport, BCF, Super Cheap Auto), Michael Hill Jewellers, and MJ Bale are just some of the names that have come under underpayment scrutiny so far this year.
Late last week, the Business Council of Australia announced its cautious support for criminal sanctions for deliberate wage theft, while also offering caution and calls for a ‘grace period’.
“There is a need to modernise the enforcement regime under the Fair Work Act 2009 so that sanctions for the most serious breaches of workplace laws are more closely aligned to those that apply under other laws regulating business conduct,” the Council said, in a submission to the Morrison Government’s public discussion paper on the matter.
“The Business Council supports the introduction of criminal sanctions for such breaches.”