WA considers criminalising wage theft

WA considers criminalising wage theft

WESTERN Australia’s government will consider criminalising wage theft as part of a crackdown on the underpayment of workers.

The government has announced a series of measures in response to an inquiry undertaken by former WA chief industrial relations commissioner Tony Beech, who says employees in some industries are being systematically and deliberately underpaid.

His report has found that the likelihood of wage theft is greater in cafes and restaurants, contract cleaning businesses and the retail sector.

“The horticulture sector, with its reliance on workers who are vulnerable and/or sourced through labour hire, is also a particular industry sector where wage theft is prevalent,” he said.

“Systematic and deliberate underpayment often involves permanent and temporary migrant workers.”

The underpayment of workers could become a criminal offence in Western Australia.

Mr Beech said that while he did not believe unintentional underpayment of wages or entitlements should be a criminal offence, the state government should consider criminalising the most serious cases of systematic and deliberate wage theft.

Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston on Friday said the government would give the recommendation further consideration.

He said the government was committed to amending industrial relations laws to address wage theft and giving broader powers to industrial inspectors.

Employers will be prohibited from discriminating against workers because they have inquired or complained about their employment conditions.

A website allowing workers to anonymously report payment issues was also launched.

UnionsWA secretary Meredith Hammat said harsher penalties, including criminal charges for serious cases, were “urgently needed”.

“Regular, intentional and unlawful under-payment of wages – wage theft – can have devastating consequences for working people,” she said.

“It is widespread but often hidden because of intimidation and because vulnerable working people are often affected – young people, those in insecure work or those born overseas, including workers with only temporary work visa rights such as students and tourists.”

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