Companies that incorrectly remunerate workers could face tougher penalties and be forced to name and shame themselves, if new laws are passed.
The Federal Government wants employers, which are found guilty of wage theft and deliberately exploiting workers, to be punished with heavy fines, lengthy jail terms, and disclose and publish details of their wrongdoing.
Hundreds of millions gone
“Like most Australians, the government has been appalled by the number of companies that have recently admitted short-changing their staff, in some cases by hundreds of millions of dollars,” Attorney-General Christian Porter said in a public statement.
“While it is understood the vast majority of these underpayments were not deliberate and were rectified swiftly, they are incredibly serious and border on negligence given we are talking about sophisticated organisations that should be capable of meeting their obligations under workplace law.”
New legislation will shortly be introduced in parliament to make it a criminal offence to underpay or take advantage of workers, and continuing to employ people in an unlawful manner. The rules will give authorities greater powers in enforcing the Fair Work Act through changing the severity of certain types of wrongdoing that was not previously considered criminal activity.
Proposed measures include recovering unpaid wages more quickly, banning certain companies from employing workers on certain visa types, and disqualifying directors of companies where significant underpayments occur. There is also potential for the Fair Work Commission to help mediate and conciliate disputes between employers and employees at a much lower cost than legal action.
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“The coalition has already increased some civil penalties by a factor of 10 but it is clear to me that more still needs to be done to motivate companies to improve their performance, such as disqualifying directors of organisations that continue to get it wrong,” Porter said.
Submissions are being accepted until 3 April 2020 about a range of reform options detailed in a new discussion paper that has been released. Click here to make a submission.