Court judgement proves need for new wage theft offence in SA
Unions have welcomed Labor’s announcement that ifelected it will introduce a new penalty for bosses who recklessly andrepeatedly rip off their workers’ wages and superannuation.
SA Unions State Secretary Joe Szakacs (pron sock-arch) says wage theft isendemic across Australia and has become a business model relied on by businessesto make profits.
“Wage theft – including the failure to pay a worker’ssuperannuation – has long term consequences for that person’s entire workinglife and reaches into the amount of money they’ll have to live on when theyretire.”
Just this week, six tradies who worked in the electricalcontracting industry for a private company in Adelaide were awarded penaltiesagainst their former employer after their wages and superannuation were stolenfrom them.
The men, who worked for the company Go Wasp Pty Ltd, startedpursuing their employer for unpaid entitlements, with the backing of their union,after they were made redundant but never paid out any of their entitlements.They also had overtime and superannuation payments stolen from them throughouttheir employment.
In the SA Employment Tribunal, Deputy President Lieschkefined the company $120,000 in penalties, personally penalised the two directors$23,250 and $23,000, and awarded the workers a total of $55,145.
It was only with the backing of their union, the CEPU –Plumbing and Electrical Division, that they had the power and resources tofight for their entitlements.
CEPU SA Secretary John Adley said that for twelvemonths, these employers breached court orders and failed to either show up incourt or provide evidence about what they had paid their workers.
“It took more than twelve months but we never gave up fightingfor these workers. That’s what unions do.”
Secretary Joe Szakacs says that workers need the backingof their union to have the power and resources necessary to fight wage theftlike this.
“Unions stand upfor workers who’ve had their wages and super stolen and we’ll be able to domore of that with new wage theft laws proposed in South Australia.
“Businesses like these, who knowingly and recklesslycontinue to rip-off their workers, will now have to face the full consequencesof the law.”
The Labor Government has pledged to amend the CriminalLaw Consolidation Act to include the criminal offence of wage theft, where anemployer and/or owner of a business knowingly or recklessly and repeatedlyunderpays their workers.
“We’re not talking about some bosses who make a mistakewith their payroll. This is about bosses who set up their business model in away that pays people below the legal minimum. In some cases, this leavesworkers being paid less that the national minimum wage and left living inpoverty.
Mr Szakacs said there have been many cases of wage theftin South Australia, particularly in food and hospitality, agriculture and meatprocessing industries. In some cases, workers in the agricultural industriesare paid as little as $5 an hour.
‘Stealing workers’ wages is a crime and it’s rife, mostparticularly among migrant workers.
“We now call on the Liberal Party and Nick Xenophon totell us where they stand on working people being ripped off.
“Do they support big fines for bosses or not?”
Joe Szakacs is available on 0413486235