A parliamentary inquiry into wage theft in Queensland has made 17 recommendations aimed at eliminating the practice and ensuring workers get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed the release of the inquiry report which, she said, confirmed the government’s concerns that workers were regularly being ripped off by their employers.
“In the past 12-18 months we’ve seen a number of high profile of wage thefts, particularly by franchisees and those in the agricultural labour hire industry,” the Premier said.
“My government is determined to protect workers and that’s why I asked the Queensland Parliament’s Education, Employment and Small Business Committee to conduct this inquiry.
“The inquiry found that wage theft is affecting around 437,000, or one-in-four, Queensland workers and costing $1.2 billion every year. That’s $1.2 billion that’s missing from family budgets and that doesn’t flow to local businesses and the wider economy.
“Employers cannot and must not shirk their responsibility to pay their staff what they are owed.
“Wage theft takes many forms, including the underpayment of wages, unpaid super, unpaid penalty rates, unauthorised deductions from pays, unpaid work trials, the misuse of ABNs and sham contracting.
“Compounding the problem is that workers often feel powerless to reclaim their lost entitlements.”
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the inquiry found the annual loss associated with the underpayment or non-payment of superannuation was estimated at $1.12 billion.
“This is the second report this week that proves that wage theft is a national disgrace and needs to be addressed,” Ms Grace said.
“Twelve of the 17 recommendations made in the report are matters for the Federal Government to consider, while the remaining five are matters for the Queensland Government.
“The recommendations within the Queensland Government’s jurisdiction deal with providing better public information and education, ensuring our procurement policies allow for action to be taken against employers that have underpaid workers and taking action to ensure that wage recovery processes for Queensland workers are simple, quick and low-cost.
“The Palaszczuk Government will do all it can at a state level, however Scott Morrison and the Federal Government need to take action now to address wage theft on a national level.”
“But even more importantly, employers must do the fair and decent thing any pay workers what they are entitled to.”
The inquiry looked particularly at the exploitation of temporary work visa holders; wage theft and non-compliance with the superannuation guarantee; and corporate avoidance of the Commonwealth’s Fair Work Act 2009.
The committee received 49 submissions from employer organisations, unions, law firms, and community organisations. Submissions were frequently of very high quality, and outlined a number of practical options for reform at both the state and Commonwealth levels
The committee heard evidence from 100 individuals at 24 hearings in Brisbane and regional Queensland. There was also an online survey asking for accounts of recent and historical wage theft from the public.
The committee heard evidence that wage theft was taking place across a wide cross-section of the Queensland economy, including the medical, legal, transport, trades, construction and childcare industries.
Of particular concern were findings by the Fair Work Ombudsman that 49 percent of hospitality employers state-wide, and 60 percent in Fortitude Valley, were not paying the correct wages.
Similarly, academic research into exploitation of migrant workers found that 31 percent of fruit and vegetable pickers, and nearly 20 percent of employees in convenience stores, earned $10 or less (less than half the minimum wage).