In September the Federal Circuit Court fined the director of a cleaning business for underpaying three vulnerable South Korean migrant workers by $10,000. If the director had stolen $10,000, he would have faced years in prison. Because it's ‘only wage theft’, he got a fine. For the cleaners missing out, it doesn’t feel that different.
Wage theft is rampant in Australia. UNSW has identified over $1 billion in stolen wages across our economy. Yet the Fair Work Ombudsman’s annual report suggests that last year it handed out only $7.2 million in in penalties. For many businesses, they do the maths and decide it’s a risk they are willing to take.
That’s why Labor’s announcement of a Wage Theft Tribunal is so welcome. For a low paid person, the idea of issuing proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court to reclaim stolen wages seems scary and expensive. A cheap, informal and easy to access Tribunal to help underpaid workers get their money back will make a huge difference to people who have been underpaid.
Wage theft is bad for business too. Those businesses that do the right thing by their workers have to compete with dodgy bosses who get an unfair advantage by underpaying their workers. The new Wage Theft Tribunal would support good businesses that pay the correct wages by penalising their competitors who break the law.
Slater and Gordon have fought for the rights of low paid workers since 1935. That’s why we support Labor’s Wage Theft Tribunal as an important step towards low paid workers reclaiming the billions in underpayments that have been stolen from them. This important reform will make a huge difference to low paid Australians who deserve a fair days pay for a fair days work.