The first laws in Australia to make wage theft a crime are set to pass Victoria’s upper house this week.
The Wage Theft Bill includes huge penalties and up to 10-years jail for greedy employers.
First laws to make wage theft a crime
The Andrews government bill will empower a new crack team of inspectors to police the laws.
Known as the Victorian Wage Inspectorate, the team will have strong powers.
For example, it will have the right to:
- enter premises to obtain information
- seize evidence
- and to apply for and execute search warrants.
Furthermore, the inspectorate will target employers who falsify wage records to deliberately cover up underpayments.
Companies face new penalties of up to $991,320, while individuals face penalties of up to $198,264 in addition to up to 10 years in jail.
Unions confident law will pass
Victorian Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari says unions are confident the new law will pass.
“Wage theft is everywhere and it’s harmful.
“Some people will go to prison for this and they should.
“Businesses that are doing the right thing are having to compete against businesses doing the wrong thing.”
Employer groups oppose legislation
However, employer groups have long opposed criminal penalties for wage theft.
Despite Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra conceding wage theft is unacceptable, he says he does not support the new legislation.
He argues the state government should wait for national wage theft laws previously flagged by Attorney-General Christian Porter.
“We need a national approach.
“Unnecessary and confusing state-by-state approaches will damage the business environment and discourage employment.”
Current laws aren’t working
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from IR Claims welcomed the new law.
“Good on the Andrews government for taking these practical steps to crack down on greedy bosses,” he said.
“Wage theft is systemic and greedy bosses have been stealing from their workers for far too long.
“This is because current laws aren’t working in addition to the reluctance of the Fair Work Ombudsman to bring prosecutions.
“Therefore, it’s time for state governments to take action.
“My hope is other states like Queensland will follow Victoria’s lead and introduce similar legislation soon.”
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