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Wage theft is now a crime under new workplace laws

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Employers who deliberately underpay their workers could face jail time under new workplace laws that have passed Parliament.
Workplace laws

Employers who deliberately underpay their workers, known as wage theft, could face jail time under new workplace laws.

The tougher penalties are part of several changes to mandatory workplace rules, outlined in an Industrial Relations reforms bill.

The reforms include criminalising intentional wage theft and improving protections for workers experiencing domestic and family violence.

Wage theft

Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke introduced workplace reforms to Parliament earlier this year. Part of the reforms sought to criminalise wage theft.

‘Wage theft’ describes employers who fail to give employees their legal entitlements (e.g. pay, super, annual leave).

From 2025, it will be a criminal offence for businesses to deliberately underpay workers. Penalties for employers found guilty of wage theft include 10 years imprisonment or fines over $7 million.

Same job, same pay

The reforms will also ensure employees hired through labour hire firms (such as temporary recruitment agencies) who do the same work as full-time employees at a company, are paid the same.

According to Burke, this means “labour hire workers will no longer be underpaid”.

Extra support

Under the new laws, any employee suffering domestic or family violence wil get more protection from workplace discrimination.

First responders, such as emergency service workers, will also receive more support if they’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by their job.

Burke said the reforms would protect Australian “workers’ wages, safety and conditions”.

Response

When the reforms passed, Shadow Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said it was “a devastating day for Australian businesses that are going to be impacted by the changes to labour hire in this country”.

Minerals Council of Australia CEO Tania Constable accused the Government of committing an act of “economic vandalism… by dramatically lifting the cost of doing business in Australia”.

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