Qld Government seeks to criminalise wage theft

Earlier this month, the Palaszczuk Government introduced the Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020 (the Bill) into the Queensland Parliament, which, according to Industrial Relations Minister, Grace Grace, will amend criminal legislation “to target employers who commit serious and deliberate wage theft” whilst creating a “simple, quick and low-cost wage recovery process for Queenslanders who suffer underpayment of their wages”.

The ambitious reforms stem from a 2018 parliamentary enquiry into wage theft in Queensland which reportedly found the practice was “endemic across the state”.

Minister Grace indicated that wage theft takes many forms including underpayment of wages, unpaid superannuation and penalty rates, unauthorised deductions from pays, the “misuse of ABN’s” and sham contracting and went on to assert that nearly “25% of Queensland workers” aren’t getting what they’re entitled to, amounting to over $1.2 billion in unpaid or underpaid wages and another $1.1 billion in underpaid superannuation.

The Bill seeks to balance penalties which have been applicable for employees stealing from their bosses by implementing a criminal penalty for employers who “deliberately and wilfully rip-off their workers”. Minister Grace highlighted that, “Employers who commit wage theft face up to 10 years jail for stealing and 14 years for fraud under amendments to the Criminal Code.” In addition, the proposed legislation will create a new, “streamlined small claims process” making it “much simpler and less costly” for workers to recover entitlements, including by permitting members of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission to conciliate claims before progressing to a Court hearing.

Minister Grace concluded, “The threat of tough criminal charges for deliberate wage theft, together with the new streamlined process for recovering underpayment, will provide a strong incentive for employers in Queensland to do the right thing and pay workers their full legal entitlements.” The Education, Employment and Small Business Committee is taking submissions on the Bill through to 30 July with a report to be tabled before the end of August.