August 16, 2021
You may remember us campaigning hard for wage theft laws to be passed in Queensland and Victoria last year. It was a big victory when they passed and we hope they’re going to make a difference to the working lives of our members.
So what do these wage theft laws cover and what do you need to know about them?
Underpayments to staff happen all the time, but it doesn’t always mean it’s technically ‘wage theft’. Wage theft is defined as a deliberate, dishonest attempt to deprive employees of their entitlements.
Examples include not being paid the right wage or not receiving superannuation, leave, overtime, training periods or the penalty rates that you’re entitled to.
Wage theft has to be deliberate, so it doesn’t cover payroll errors or misinterpretations of an agreement or award. It also doesn’t cover paying workers on legally operating zombie agreements.
Queensland and Victoria have both recently passed wage theft laws. Their laws are different, but they both characterise wage theft as deliberate criminal activity and require a high standard of proof.
The wage theft laws in Queensland came into effect on 14 September 2020. They’re not retrospective however, stolen wages accrued prior may be part of the investigation if wage theft also occurred after September 2020.
The law states ‘deliberate, intentional behaviour leading to under or non-payment of entitlements as a criminal offence’. If it’s determined that employers deliberately stole from employees, they could be prosecuted and sentenced to up to 10 years’ jail.
The wage theft laws in Victoria came into effect on 1 July 2021. They’re also not retrospective however, again, stolen wages accrued prior may be part of the investigation if wage theft also occurred after July 2021.
In Victoria, if it’s determined that an employer deliberately and dishonestly underpaid employees, they could be punished by a fine of up to $218,088 or up to 10 years’ jail for individuals and a fine of up to $1,090,440 for companies.
If you’re not sure if your boss is dodgy, look out for these common practices of wage thieves. Some clues include:
Unfortunately, a wage theft prosecution doesn’t necessarily mean you will get back your stolen wages. However, you can simultaneously report your boss for wage theft and go through other means to get your money back.
In Victoria and Queensland, you can go through various small claims courts to apply for unpaid wages to be paid back. The Queensland legislation also has made it easier for the state Magistrates’ Courts to deal with ‘Fair Work’ claims.
To report wage theft in QLD, visit this Queensland Police page.
It’s important to have your documents ready to back up your claim. Some things you might need are:
Unfortunately, wage theft laws aren’t a silver bullet. They’re a powerful disincentive, but will not solve the problem alone.
The best way to fight back against wage theft is through a union like Hospo Voice.
Want to fight wage theft with Hospo Voice? Join today.
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