Employers who underpay workers will be forced to ‘name and shame’ themselves under government proposals to tackle the problem.
They will display public signs admitting their wage theft, in addition to publishing notices online and in newspapers.
Furthermore, businesses which fail to prevent underpayments will be banned from hiring migrant workers, and company directors disqualified from holding office.
Employers who underpay workers to face criminal penalties
The minister said his wage theft bill will include “significant jail terms and fines” to:
“…help deter other types of wage underpayments and non-compliance that do not meet the threshold of criminal conduct.
“More still needs to be done to motivate companies to improve their performance, such as disqualifying directors of organisations that continue to get it wrong.”
Government ‘appalled’ by extent of wage theft
Mr Porter said the government had been “appalled” by the recent string of wage underpayment scandals and was acting to ensure “corporate Australia lifts its game when it comes to paying its workers properly”.
Professional services firm PwC has estimated 13 per cent of Australian workers are underpaid a total of $1.35 billion a year.
A growing number of major employers have admitted to underpaying workers.
- the ABC,
- Super Retail Group,
- Commonwealth Bank,
- Rockpool Dining Group,
- Sunglass Hut,
- George Calombaris’ hospitality group MAdE,
- and now Coles.
Most wage theft ‘not deliberate’
Despite this, Mr Porter insists that the “vast majority” of wage theft is unintentional, but, even so, describes it:
“incredibly serious and borders on negligence because we are talking about sophisticated organisations that are capable of meeting their obligations under workplace law”.
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan scoffed at suggestions wage theft was not deliberate.
“You only have to look at litigation after litigation brought by the Fair Work Ombudsman against employers who consistently and repeatedly rip off their workers,” he said.
“The Attorney-General is on another planet if he thinks wage theft isn’t deliberate action by greedy bosses who are allowed to get away with it for far too long.”
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