Employers react to 'wage theft' allegation in Queensland inquiry

Does every case of underpayment amount to wage theft?

Employers react to 'wage theft' allegation in Queensland inquiry

The Queensland Council of Unions is hearing testimonies this week from workers who claim to have experienced ‘wage theft’.

These include cases of people who have been underpaid/unpaid by employers, or have been unable to recoup money owed by employers even after seeking redress through the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Some businesses and industry associations, however, take issue with the term itself, calling it an exaggeration of instances of underpayment.

The National Retail Association (NRA), for example, claims wage non-compliance exists because “there will always be a business operator with insufficient understanding, or insufficient scruples, for this to occur.”

If workers are being cheated, it is because of a “failure of the wider system” – not just legislation – to inform workers of their rights, the NRA said.

On the other hand, the Housing Industry Association argues that the notion of wage theft “has been greatly exaggerated by implying that all underpayment of wages is theft”.

The Australian Industry Group, for its part, believes the term “risks inappropriately branding employers who mistakenly underpay their employees as criminals”. Penalising underpayments ushers in an “unnecessary and unwarranted” shift in the industrial relations system, the group said.

The Queensland council said 169 people have approached them with details of how they have encountered wage theft. The parliamentary inquiry is looking into criminalising the act.


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