Employment law experts are calling on the federal government to introduce criminal penalties for wage theft.
The call comes after the Federal Circuit Court penalised a Queensland restaurant operator for a third time for ripping off workers.
Additionally, the court described the underpayments as “reckless” and “inexcusable” while handing down more than $100,000 in penalties.
The most recent case
Nine employees at the Fire and Stone restaurant at the Tangalooma Island Resort on Moreton Island ended up being underpaid a total of $2,239.
The underpayments happened between March and October 2017.
The court ordered manager Jia Wang to pay $38,808 and the restaurant’s owner Auspac Hospitality Management to pay $75,000.
Penalised for a third time
It’s the third time Wang is penalised for his involvement in ripping off workers.
In 2016, he and his company copped penalties of $20,000 for paying a young Chinese backpacker $10 an hour.
Additionally, in 2017, the penalties reached more than $70,000 because of dismissal of an international student as a result of her complaining about wages.
That penalty remains unpaid.
Penalties are ‘a joke’
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from IR Claims said the case highlights the ineffectiveness of current penalties.
“This man is a repeat offender, who is penalised and penalised and never pays,” he said.
“Mr Wang is living proof that current financial penalties for wage theft are an absolute joke.
“Mr Wang should be criminally charged and face criminal convictions and even jail time, just like every other thief would.
“It’s time the government stopped talking about cracking down on wage theft, and started doing something about it.”
Wage theft ‘inexcusable’
Judge Michael Jarrett said the company is responsible for “significant” breaches of record-keeping and pay slip laws.
This made it hard for employees to monitor their legal entitlements.
Judge Jarrett said Mr Wang is an experienced businessman, and his non-compliance is “inexcusable”.
“There is a need to send a message to employers in the hospitality industry that employees must be provided with their correct entitlements…
and that accurate and complete employee records and payslips are not optional.”
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