We can stamp out wage theft: workers present solutions to the Senate today
United Workers Union members have presented a formal submission to the Senate Inquiry into Wage Theft in Canberra today on behalf of the thousands of union members who have experienced wage theft. The workers are calling for an end to wage theft becoming the ‘new normal’ and presenting solutions to return a culture of compliance to Australian workplaces.
Workers have shared shocking personal stories of wage theft in the submission. Stories include farm workers paid $8 to $12 an hour to pick tomatoes whilst being exposed to dangerous chemical spraying. One food manufacturing worker was forced to work 23 hours a day for no overtime and with the help of the union recovered $36,000 in overtime wages. A security guard working 24 hour shifts for a flat rate of pay was not paid any shift loadings or penalty rates, the union is fighting for $55,000 in stolen wages.
The United Workers Union submission makes the following recommendations to stamp out wage theft:
- UNIONS – The most sustainable solution to wage theft is unionised workplaces and the union recommends first and foremost that unions are empowered to investigate, prevent and prosecute wage theft.
- CRIMINALISATION: NO MORE SLAPS ON THE WRIST – wage thieves need to be criminally prosecuted – whether the theft is a one off or ongoing, and the individuals who are responsible need to be held to account. Offences must extend to the falsification of worker records and the failure to keep worker entitlements
- RIGHT OF STAY – Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to wage theft due to a lack of knowledge of their working rights in Australia, not having English as a first language, and insecure visa status. Unions are the first and, in many cases only, one fighting on the frontline to protect exploited migrant workers, including a right of stay for exploited migrants who are already victims of wage theft.
- UNFAIR TAXATION – The union advocates that victims of wage theft are not further disadvantaged by unfair taxation treatment when their stolen wages are repaid. No worker should be ‘worse off’ than if they had received the wages owed to them at the correct time.
- LABOUR HIRE SCHEME – The union recommends introducing a National Labour Hire Licensing scheme. State-level labour hire licensing schemes in Victoria and Queensland are already working to improve the employment practices of labour hire companies. A national scheme must replicate and scale up the best-practice aspects of both state schemes.
- PUBLIC REGISTER & DISQUALIFICATION – The amending of procurement policies so that breaches of the Fair Work Act (2009) resulting in worker exploitation are noted on a public register, and disqualify a business from tendering for government contracts.
Tim Kennedy, National Secretary of United Workers Union says, “Every year, thousands of the lowest paid workers in the country experience wage theft. For many this can mean the difference between getting by, or experiencing financial hardship. It must be eradicated.
“The only way to eradicate wage theft in all its forms is through strongly unionised workplaces. Migrant workers on farms, young workers who are paid cash in hospitality, and workers in industries like cleaning where shonky subcontracting is rife have been affected by wage theft for too long.
“These members have been coming together as part of their union and saying enough is enough – it’s time to stamp out wage theft.
“That’s why United Workers Union welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics Inquiry into Unlawful Underpayment of Employees’ Remuneration on behalf of union members who have experienced wage theft in its many forms.
“Examples in the submission show workers emboldened and supported by their union, standing up and taking action to recover stolen wages. They worked collectively, supported each other, took action and got results.
“The United Workers Union urges the Senate to consider our recommendations to ensure a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work for all Australian workers.”
Media Contact: 1300 898 633, [email protected]
You can download a copy of the United Workers Union submission here.
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