The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has discovered 250,000 workers were underpaid in the 2022-23 financial year.
The FWO is an independent Government agency that monitors workplace law compliance.
The underpayments add up to $509 million and have since been rectified.
However, this figure is unlikely to reflect the full extent of wage theft in Australia. Most estimates suggest the true number is billions of dollars a year.
Push to end underpayment
Wage theft is not currently a crime, although civil penalties (e.g. fines) are available for serious or repeat cases where Fair Work finds workers were underpaid.
The Federal Government is seeking to change this. A bill currently before the Parliament would see employers who are convicted of deliberate wage theft facing possible sentences of up to 10 years in jail.
Employment Minister Tony Burke has suggested “most underpayments are a mistake” and would not be covered by this law.
The Coalition opposes the Government’s bill. The bill would also give casual employees more rights to seek permanence and introduce minimum protections for gig economy workers.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has called it “an economy- destroying piece of legislation and just another nail in the coffin of small business”.