The business lobby continues to argue that wage theft isn’t a form of theft.
Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox is urging governments not to pass legislation making wage theft a crime.
He is also is continuing to maintain his argument that the community should not refer to wage theft as ‘theft’.
Willox argues that wage theft happens as a result of innocent mistakes by employers.
However, industrial advocate Miles Heffernan scoffed at this suggestion.
“If wage theft happens because of innocent mistakes, why do those mistakes always result in underpayment of workers, and never overpayment?” he said.
Taskforce recommends criminal penalties
Willox’s comments follow the government’s announcement that it will give “in principle” support to recommendations made by the Migrant Workers’ Task Force.
The taskforce found wage theft of migrant workers is rife.
It recommends the introduction of criminal penalties for employers who engage in “clear, deliberate and systemic” wage theft.
The then Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said before last month’s federal election:
“The introduction of criminal sanctions would provide a clear signal to unscrupulous employers that exploitation of migrant workers is unacceptable, and the consequences of doing so can be severe.”
Business lobby continues to argue that wage theft isn’t ‘theft’
Willox responded immediately on behalf of employers.
He urged the government not to impose criminal sanctions on bosses who rip off their workers.
“While at first glance, this might seem like a good idea, there are many reasons why this is not in anyone’s interests,’’ he said.
“Penalties for breaches of industrial laws were recently increased by up to 20 times and this already provides an effective deterrent.
“Implementing criminal penalties for wage underpayments would discourage investment, entrepreneurship and employment growth.
“Importantly, a criminal case would not deliver any back-pay to an underpaid worker. Where a criminal case is underway, any civil case to recoup unpaid amounts would be put on hold by the court until the criminal case is concluded. This means that underpaid workers could be waiting years for back-pay.”
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Wage theft rampant
Meanwhile, industrial advocate Miles Heffernan rejected Willox’s argument.
“Hefty monetary penalties have proven ineffective as a deterrent to wage theft,” he said.
“We already have severe financial penalties for employers who do the wrong thing, however, wage theft continues to happen across many industries.
“It is time greedy employers face criminal convictions and jail time for wage theft, just like other forms of stealing.”
Mr Heffernan also scoffed at Willox’s assertion that criminal sanctions will discourage investment and employment growth.
“What utter nonsense,” he said. “Mr Willox offers not one scrap of evidence to support such a ludicrous claim.
“The reality is that wage theft actually costs the economy billions of dollars.”
Mr Heffernan pointed to a recent McKell Institute report which found wage theft costs the Queensland economy $1.2 billion annually.
The same report also found 437,000 Queenslanders are victims of wage theft.
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