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IR Claims Welcomes Thorough Wage Theft Inquiry Report

IR Claims welcomes thorough wage theft inquiry report

Industrial Relations Claims has welcomed the release today of a report into wage theft in Queensland, which has made 17 recommendations, including making wage theft a criminal offence.

The report, by the Queensland government’s Education, Employment and Small Business Committee, found that wage theft is affecting around 437,000 workers in the state, costing $1.2 billion every year.

Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at IR Claims, who made a submission to the inquiry, in addition to direct testimony, congratulated the Committee for its report, titled ‘A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work?’.

“It is clear the Education, Employment and Small Business Committee took this issue extremely seriously, and they have taken the time to produce a thorough and detailed report with some excellent recommendations,” he said.

Criminal penalties and education programs

Among the recommendations, the report calls for wage theft to be made a criminal offence for ‘deliberate and reckless’ cases.

In addition, the report also calls for a public education campaign about the impacts of wage theft on the community, and education programs for school, TAFE and university students to teach them their workplace rights.

The report also calls for more Federal Circuit Court judges to hear wage theft cases in Queensland – currently there are just two.

Mr Heffernan welcomed the committee’s suggestion that the government considers allowing the state’s Industrial Relations Commission to deal with wage theft matters as a court.

“That would make a huge difference to victims of wage theft – because not only would it would make recovering stolen wages cheaper, quicker and easier, but the Commission could also award pecuniary penalties against rogue employers that could be awarded to wage theft victims.” he said.

Committee heard of emotional impact of wage theft

During six months, the committee received 49 submissions and heard direct evidence from more than 100 witnesses, including a number of clients from IR Claims.

The report noted the emotional and social impact of wage theft has on victims.

“Some workers reported experiencing anxiety and depression and having to borrow money to cover basic living expenses,” committee chair Leanne Linard said.

One of those workers was IR Claims client Kay Clifton, who told the committee:

“It did cause me a lot of anxiety, and stress, and I would go so far as to say depression.  You’re just left wondering how on earth you are going to pay your bills and how you are going to live when you’ve got no money.”

Miles Heffernan and IR Claims clients giving evidence to the wage theft inquiry earlier this year.

Fair Work Ombudsman needs full review

The committee heard affected workers felt powerless to reclaim their lost wages and entitlements, with the Fair Work Ombudsman receiving criticism from many of those affected for being ineffective and unhelpful.

The Committee has recommended a full review of the FWO’s performance, resourcing and culture, in addition to requesting that the Federal government immediately appoint more Fair Work inspectors to Queensland.  (Currently there are just 38).

“This inquiry has been well worth the effort, and the committee has produced a thorough report, and if we see its recommendations implemented, I believe we will be on the way to severely reducing, and maybe even eliminating wage theft in Queensland,” Mr Heffernan said.


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