The Queensland Parliament has passed new wage theft laws which could see dodgy employers jailed for up to 14 years.
The Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020 was passed by Parliament on 9 September 2020 having been introduced to Parliament in July (see related article) ). It follows a Parliamentary Committee inquiry in 2018 that found wage theft is endemic across the state, affecting more than 400,000 workers and costing them approximately $1.22 billion in wages and $1.12 billion in unpaid superannuation each year. The Committee heard concerns about employers engaging in wage theft to lower costs, increase profits and gain competitive advantages. The Committee found that, in addition to exploiting workers, the practices harm businesses doing the right thing by driving down prices, impacting on competition.
The new legislation amends the Criminal Code to define stealing as including a failure to pay an employee, or another person on behalf of the employee, an amount payable to the employee or other person in relation to the performance of work by the employee is a thing capable of being stolen. It also inserts an item to provide that the maximum penalty for stealing by an employer is 10 years imprisonment. The offence of fraud is amended to insert a new paragraph to provide that the offender is liable to 14 years imprisonment if the offender is or was an employer of the victim.
Amendments have also been made to the Industrial Relations Act 2016 to provide for the ‘timely, inexpensive and informal resolution’ of Fair Work Claims in an Industrial Magistrates Court. Wage recovery claims will be referred to conciliation prior to hearing which the government expects to result in the prompt and low-cost resolution of a majority of claims. Conciliation will be conducted by Industrial Commissioners of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.
When introducing the Bill to Parliament, IR Minister Grace Grace said:
The combination of criminalisation of wage theft and the facilitation of quick, simple and low-cost wage recovery processes will assist workers to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, will make employers who engage in wage theft criminally responsible for their actions and will act as a deterrent for employers engaging in these practices.