New anti wage-theft laws will benefit Canberra workers

New anti-wage-theft laws passed today by the ACT Assembly will benefit Canberra workers whose wages have been stolen by their boss.

The Courts (Fair Work and Work Safety) Act 2019 clarifies existing referral powers under the Fair Work Act to allow state and territory magistrates courts to hear small-claims (wage-theft) matters. Under the Fair Work Act, unions have a major role in ensuring compliance and recovering underpayments.

Unions have long expressed concerns at the failures of the Fair Work Act in enabling workers to access justice in wage-theft cases. The existing system is time-consuming and expensive, and these failures strongly favour employers.

The biggest contributing factor to the wage-theft crisis is that unscrupulous employers know that in the unlikely event they are caught, it will be many months, even years, before they must pay back the money they stole from their workers.

The new laws restore workers’ rights to access quick, simple and inexpensive justice in the specialised Industrial Magistrates Court.

Wage-theft facts

  • Two Fair Work Ombudsman audits of businesses in Canberra have found that over 40 percent of businesses fail to comply with the Fair Work Act;
  • Over half of all young workers experience wage-theft at the hands of their adult employer each year, according to UnionsACT research;
  • More than 45,000 workers in Canberra have had an average of $3,400 in superannuation stolen by their employer according to Industry Super Australia;
  • UnionsACT polling show that 7 in 10 Canberrans support stronger penalties for employers who steal wages from their workers.

The following quotes are attributable to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“UnionsACT strongly supports the laws passed today and we congratulate Attorney General Gordon Ramsay and the Labor Government.

“Working people in the ACT are facing a wage-theft crisis, with more than 40 percent of businesses deciding to break one or more of the Fair Work Act requirements.

“These new laws introduce a simpler, fairer and less expensive system that allows workers and their unions to hold to account unscrupulous bosses who steal wages.”

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