Wage thieves face decade in jail under tough new laws
EMPLOYERS found to have deliberately underpaid staff could be thrown behind bars for up to a decade under a hard line approach to tackle wage theft.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the State Government will introduce legislation to make wage theft - which is taking about $1.2 billion from Queensland workers' wallets each year - a crime.
It follows a parliamentary inquiry in 2018 that made 17 recommendations, including criminalising wage theft, with six falling within the State Government's jurisdiction.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the inquiry found almost one in four Queenslanders was not receiving the pay they were entitled to.
"Wage theft is taking around $1.2 billion out of workers' pockets each year and more than $1 billion from workers' superannuation," she said. "Enough is enough."
Anyone found to have deliberately underpaid a staff member or who enables another person to commit the offence could be charged under the proposal. They would face a maximum of 10 years' jail for stealing or 14 years for fraud.
The legislation, expected to be introduced in April, comes despite criticism from the Australian Industry Group in 2018, which claimed there were already substantial penalties for companies that deliberately underpaid workers.
Ms Grace said the Criminal Code came down hard on workers caught with their hand in the till.
"But there's no offence for unscrupulous bosses who intentionally steal from their employees or defraud them. These amendments will rectify that inequity and send a strong message to employers that wage theft is not acceptable - it is a crime."
Attorney-General and Justice Minister Yvette D'Ath said a new streamlined small claims process would be introduced to further support the 437,000 Queenslanders being underpaid each year.
"For workers, their first and main priority is to get back what is owed to them," she said. "But almost half of workers who experience wage theft don't try to recover the moneys owed to them because the process is complex and time-consuming. Once the new system is in place, wage-recovery processes will be far simpler and more user-friendly."