Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, has once again urged governments not to make wage theft a criminal offence, and continues to maintain his ridiculous argument that it should not be referred to as ‘theft’.
The call from Mr Willox (pictured above), who represents employers, comes after the Coalition government agreed to give “in principle” support for the recommendations of the Migrant Workers’ Task Force.
Among the recommendations made recently by the task force, which was chaired by Allan Fels, was the introduction of criminal sanctions for employers who are found to have engaged in “clear, deliberate and systemic” wage theft.
“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,” the then Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer said before last month’s federal election.
‘Not in anyone’s interests’
Mr Willox was quick to respond on behalf of employers, once again arguing that the government should not 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.”
Wage theft rampant
Industrial relations consultant Jeremy Walton from WAGETHEFT.net.au, who helps workers recover stolen wages, scoffed at Mr Willox’s comments.
“If current penalties for wage theft already provide an effective deterrent, perhaps Mr Willox can explain why wage theft is rampant in the fast food, restaurant, cafe, retail and hair and beauty sectors,” Mr Walton said.
“And as for his baseless assertion that criminalising wage theft would somehow discourage investment and employment growth – he offers not one scrap of evidence to support his claim.
“Mr Willox also makes the ridiculous argument that wage theft shouldn’t be called ‘theft’ – well what else would he call suggest we call it when someone steals money from someone else?” Mr Walton asked.
Recent raids find half of businesses not paying proper wages
Mr Walton points to the results of recent surprise audits of businesses in Wollongong, Ballarat and Albury-Wodonga by the Fair Work Ombudsman, which found that almost half were underpaying their workers.
In total, the workplace watchdog recovered $331,386 for 725 underpaid workers as a result of the raids.
It issued 35 cautions (Formal Cautions), 37 on-the-spot fines (Infringement Notices) and nine Compliance Notices.
“If Mr Willox thinks wage theft is not a problem, why doesn’t he speak to some of the 725 workers in these three towns who had been ripped off – and that’s just three towns – you can only imagine the number Australia-wide – we’re talking hundreds of thousands of workers who are having their wages stolen every week by their greedy bosses,” Mr Walton said.
“Until wage theft is made a criminal offence, and we start convicting and locking up these unscrupulous employers, we will continue to see workers being ripped off.
“Unfortunately for workers, with the re-election of the Coalition government, we are unlikely to see any real effort to tackle wage theft for the next three years.”
If you have not received your proper wages and entitlements, or are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our specialist team at WAGETHEFT.net.au on
1300 1 THEFT (1300 184 338)
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