What is wage theft?
Wage theft is a term used by the unions to describe the practice of paying workers less than they are entitled to under Australia’s workplace relations system.
In particular, underpayment of superannuation has a direct impact on the retirement savings of affected workers.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has taken aim at wages during his campaign.
“We’re going to clamp down dodgy labour hire and we’re going to make sure there’s less sham contracting. And we must stop the rorts where some guest workers are brought in from overseas to undercut the local labour market and they get exploited in turn,” Mr Shorten said.
“We want to stop the wage theft like we’ve seen with some of the big companies,” he said.
The Coalition have changed laws to increase the penalties for employers that exploit vulnerable workers. However, the problem still persists.
Outside support grows
The Australian Council of Trade Unions, the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology have all welcomed Mr Shorten’s announcement to end wage theft.
Senior law lecturer at UNSW Bassina Fabenblum believes vulnerable people, including migrants, are most at risk.
“There’s no way to break this cycle unless workers have a quick, cheap and accessible avenue to reclaim the wages they are owed and can hold employers to account,” she says.
The researchers encourage all sides of politics to propose similar measures to the Labor announcement, to assist underpaid workers, said Professor Fabenblum.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus believes more needs to be done to protect workers’ rights.
“This announcement should put all employers on notice – if you steal from your workers, they will be able to take you to court and you will face penalties,” Ms McManus said.
“One case of wage theft is too many. We need to change the government to change the rules for workers who are getting ripped off,” Ms McManus said.