Restaurant and officer to face criminal charges under Victorian wage theft laws in Australian first

Wage Inspectorate Victoria

Wage Inspectorate Victoria has filed 94 criminal charges in the Magistrates Court of Victoria against a Macedon restaurant and its officer.

The charges against Rehmat & Mehar Pty Ltd (trading as The Macedon Lounge) and its officer are the first criminal wage theft charges laid under the Victorian Wage Theft Act 2020, and the first in any Australian jurisdiction.

It is alleged that, between July and November 2021, Rehmat & Mehar Pty Ltd and its officer breached wage theft laws by dishonestly withholding over $7,000 in employee entitlements, including wages, penalty rates and superannuation, in relation to four young former staff members.

Rehmat & Mehar Pty Ltd and its officer each face 47 charges.

The offence of dishonestly withholding employee entitlements under the Wage Theft Act 2020 is punishable by a fine of over $1 million (6000 penalty units) for companies and up to 10 years’ jail for individuals.

The matter has been listed for mention in the Broadmeadows Magistrates’ Court on 21 February 2023.

The Wage Inspectorate will not comment further on this matter while it is before the court.

Quotes attributable to Commissioner of Wage Inspectorate Victoria, Robert Hortle

“Victorians can be confident the Wage Inspectorate is doggedly investigating wage theft reports and intends to bring further appropriate matters before the court.”

“The Wage Inspectorate has been investigating complaints, interviewing witnesses and exercising our coercive powers. We take each report seriously and will prosecute where appropriate, as per our Compliance and Enforcement Policy.”

“These are the only stand-alone, criminal wage theft laws in Australia. There are serious penalties for dishonestly withholding employee entitlements in Victoria.”

Background

Victoria’s wage theft laws

On 1 July 2021, it became a crime for an employer in Victoria to dishonestly underpay employees or withhold their entitlements.

These crimes are punishable by up to 10 years’ jail for an individual or a fine of over $1.1 million for companies.

Wage theft offences involve deliberate and dishonest conduct. Honest mistakes made by employers who exercise due diligence in paying wages and entitlements are not considered wage theft.

Information about the laws, and allegations of wage theft can be reported to Wage Inspectorate Victoria via its website at wageinspectorate.vic.gov.au.

Wage Inspectorate Victoria

Wage Inspectorate Victoria is an independent statutory body established to investigate and prosecute wage theft offences, and to promote and enforce Victorian laws covering long service leave, child employment and contractors in transport and forestry.

A prosecution is the Wage Inspectorate’s most serious compliance tool and decisions to prosecute are made in line with its Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

The Wage Inspectorate has instigated 10 prosecutions since 1 July 2021, including matters against NAB, CommSec and BankWest.

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