Queensland Government Criminalises Wage Theft

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Queensland Government Criminalises Wage Theft

The Queensland government’s bill criminalising wage theft has been passed by Parliament this week, introducing potential jail terms for employers that engage in deliberate wage theft. The bill received strong support from trade unions, and as described by IR Minister Grace Grace has been designed “to criminalise wage theft and create a simple, quick and low-cost wage recovery process for workers”.

The bill is a response to recommendations contained in a report tabled in November 2018 by the Education, Employment and Small Business Committee. According to Minister Grace, that committee’s report found that wage theft was endemic throughout Queensland affecting 437,000 workers and costing them approximately $1.22 million in wages and $1.12 billion in unpaid superannuation each year.

In her second reading to Parliament in July 2020, Minister Grace noted that by extending the definition of ` stealing’ to include wages and entitlements, the legislative intent is to only punish those employers who intentionally fail to pay required entitlements. This could include a range of entitlements including unpaid hours, underpayment of hours, unpaid penalty rates, unreasonable deductions, unpaid superannuation, withholding underpayments, underpayment through incorrect classification or incorrect awards, or by `sham contracting’.

Unlike proposed similar legislation in Victoria, investigation of alleged wage theft offences in Queensland will be conducted by the police. The Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) have voiced concerns that “detailed public guidelines” have yet to be released that sets out the criteria that police will need to consider claims.

The ability for wage recovery claims to be referred to conciliation prior to a hearing, unless one of the parties advises that they will not participate. The government believes that genuine engagement of the parties in conciliation is likely to result in prompt and low-cost resolution of the majority of wage claims.

For queries about wage theft, subcontractor audits or other employment questions, please contact Dean Cameron at Workforce Advisory Lawyers – We Know Employment Law on 0417 622 178 or via email to dean.cameron@workforceadvisory.com.au.

Disclaimer: This information is provided as general advice on workplace relations and employment law. It does not constitute legal advice, and it is always advisable to seek further information regarding specific workplace issues. Liability limited by a scheme approved under professional standards legislation.     

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