Industrial Relations Claims, the firm behind WAGETHEFT.net.au, recently appeared before the Queensland wage theft inquiry, calling for tougher penalties for rogue employers and also for an easier system for victims to recover their money.
IR Claims Litigation Director Miles Heffernan appeared alongside four of his clients, who each told their story of wage theft to the committee.
Wage theft deliberate and intentional
Mr Heffernan told the committee that suggestions made by industry groups that most instances of wage theft are not intentional, and are instead the result of a complicated modern awards system, were nonsense.
“You have heard from restauranteurs and child-care centres. These people have to understand child safety and the complications of food hygiene and cross-contamination, yet they cannot understand the basic financial components of how to employ their staff? It is nonsense; it is not that complicated,” Mr Heffernan told the committee.
“The Fair Work Act came in in 2009, and award transitional provisions existed over five years from 2010. Perhaps up until 2015, there may have been an argument that awards converting from a state environment to a federal might have been tricky, but it is 2018.”
Wage theft victims tell their stories
Giving evidence alongside Mr Heffernan were chef Catherine Black, former truck driver Kym Rake, former medical centre manager Kay Clifton and former service station attendant Jamie Gardner-Hudson – all victims of deliberate wage theft.
Ms Black told the committee she was made to work 444 extra hours, unpaid, because she was employed on a fixed contract.
“Being in a corporate catering environment, which I was, the boss says that you will finish at two but then you do not finish until six or seven at night and you are on a salary. There is no compensation, I suppose, for working those extra hours. When you go to the boss and say, ‘I’m doing all these hours,’ they say, ‘That’s just business.’ That makes it very hard for us,” she said.
Ms Clifton told the inquiry the Fair Work Ombudsman wasn’t interested in helping her and a colleague recover $70,000 in wages that they were owed.
“I do not think we were high profile enough for the Ombudsman; we were just little fish. I just do not think they cared, to be quite honest. Even when I found Miles and his company, I still have not heard from the Ombudsman to say, ‘Your case is at this point.’ As far as they are concerned, I am still in the queue somewhere or other. The whole thing was terribly traumatic and very stressful,” she said.
Mr Rake also told how he received no help from the Fair Work Ombudsman to recover more than $200,000 is stolen wages and superannuation, despite having payslips and detailed work and time records proving the wage theft.
“I waited and waited and waited, so I rang them again and I got some lady who said, ‘If you’ve made a complaint, you’re in the queue. Just wait.’ That was it. I have not heard another word. That was three years ago,” he said.
Mr Gardner-Hudson said he too was fobbed off by the Ombudsman, but couldn’t afford to engage legal services to recover the $40,000 that he was underpaid.
“To me, it was unfair. I did that work, I put in that effort, but I still had to pay for me to recover the money for it. I do not think that is fair. That is not right for me. I did not do anything wrong,” he told the committee.
Fair Work Ombudsman failing to police wage theft
Mr Heffernan told the inquiry that the Fair Work Ombudsman was failing in its role to police wage theft, launching just 33 litigations in a year, with a budget of more than $110 million.
“Out of desperation, these people have all had to pay for a service that should have been out of the $110 million that went to the Ombudsman. Instead, the Ombudsman is an education department rather than an enforcement department. We say that they have got the balance wrong,” he said.
The inquiry was set up following pledges from both New South Wales and Victorian Labor to make wage theft a criminal offence if they are elected.
Mr Heffernan has called for the same penalties in Queensland.
In addition, he also called for the local Industrial Magistrate to handle wage theft complaints, instead of the costly and time consuming Federal Circuit Court, where most cases are currently heard.
“Right now we say that if you give the magistrate some legs and have a proper change to the industrial relations tribunal rules we can do this now,” he told the inquiry.
The committee is due to report its recommendations to the Queensland government in November.
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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