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Workers on break

We’ve all heard the stories of large-scale wage theft, where millions of dollars are stolen from workers by paying employees well under award rates or failing to pay overtime.

You may be a victim of wage theft if your employer has:

  • underpaid you by not paying your correct hourly rate (including any penalty rates you are entitled to), or not paying overtime that you are entitled to under your contract, or under an applicable industrial award or enterprise agreement.
  • withheld wages, superannuation, or other employee entitlements
  • either not kept, or falsified employee entitlement records to gain a financial advantage.

However, did you know many Aussie workers are also victims of “small scale” wage theft?

Most people aren’t even aware of what “small scale” wage theft is or how it can add up.

What is small scale wage theft?

Small scale wage theft occurs when workers are taken advantage of in small ways on a regular basis. Each instance may only be small – such as being required to work through breaks or being required to clock on after your shift begins or log off before your work is really finished – though it adds up over time.

Often entitlements are overlooked by employers in the name of ‘flexibility’, and when this happens your employer is effectively withholding your entitlements and taking advantage of you.

Real flexibility must consider both the needs of the employer and the employee.

Regularly, this small scale wage theft occurs when employers create a culture that makes you feel that insisting on your entitlements and asking for your break, for example, would make you look like you were difficult, or not a ‘team player’.

What am I entitled to?

If you are an employee, your break entitlements will depend on your employment award or contract.

Awards are legal documents outlining the minimum pay and conditions of employment in a specific industry.

Workers who insist on their award rights – including to breaks – are protected under the Fair Work Act.

It is against the law to be treated unfairly because you have asked to be given a break that you are entitled to, or because you have exercised your right to have a break.

To find information about the minimum break requirements in your industry visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Isn’t it just a break?

Not getting your break can affect your health. Working for extended periods of time without rest has been scientifically proven to lead to heart disease, diabetes, stress related disease and repetitive strain injuries.

However, not getting your break can also affect your pay.

In 2022 the union for finance and banking workers launched Federal Court action against the Commonwealth Bank for allegedly failing to allow its retail branch staff 10-minute rest breaks during their shift.

The Finance Sector Union claim the denial of breaks has amounted to $45 million worth of free work over the past six years.

When an employer denies a worker their break, they are receiving free work from that employee, and over the years that can add up.

Making sure you’re being properly compensated for your work is not just about stopping underpayment, it is also about making sure you are receiving all your entitlements.

The contents of this blog post are considered accurate as at the date of publication. However the applicable laws may be subject to change, thereby affecting the accuracy of the article. The information contained in this blog post is of a general nature only and is not specific to anyone’s personal circumstances. Please seek legal advice before acting on any of the information contained in this post.

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