New WA laws set to combat wage theft

The WA Government will take action to combat wage theft following the recommendations of the Inquiry into Wage Theft in Western Australia report released today (December 6, 2019).

The Inquiry, undertaken by former Chief Commissioner of the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission Tony Beech, found wage theft is occurring through underpayment of wages and entitlements, non-payment of wages or allowances for work performed, unauthorised or unreasonable deductions and non-payment of superannuation.

It found the likelihood of wage theft is higher in cafés and restaurants, contract cleaning, retail and horticulture.

Wage theft can have a significant impact on workers through financial hardship and can result in an unfair competitive disadvantage for employers who correctly pay their staff.

The Inquiry found that the reasons that wage theft is occurring include the lack of detection of non-compliance and enforcement of employment laws, the intention of some employers to maximise financial return, the vulnerability of some workers and a lack of knowledge of employment conditions by both workers and employers.

The Inquiry Report makes 28 recommendations to address wage theft, including that the Government consider whether the most serious cases of systematic and deliberate underpayment of wages and entitlements should attract a criminal sanction.

In response, the McGowan Government is taking action to combat wage theft by:

  • Amending State industrial relations laws to address wages theft: giving broader powers for industrial inspectors; prohibiting employers from unreasonably requiring employees to spend, or ‘pay back’ to the employer their wages; prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees because they have inquired or complained about their employment conditions; prohibiting employment being advertised at less than the applicable minimum wage; and prohibiting sham contracting arrangements;
    Raising awareness of employment rights and obligations by establishing a wage theft website (http://www.wagetheft.wa.gov.au) to assist workers with resolving an underpayment issue or reporting wage theft anonymously;
  • Developing information and education campaigns in consultation with stakeholders to raise awareness of employment rights and obligations;
  • Engaging with the Commonwealth Government to address wage theft, including Federal measures to facilitate co-operation between State and Federal industrial inspectors and much greater funding for the Fair Work Ombudsman’s presence in WA, which is very low;
  • Enhancing the level of co-operation and information sharing between State and Federal industrial inspectors to help combat wage theft;
  • As recommended, giving further consideration as to whether wage theft should be criminalised. This will include consultation with the Commonwealth, which has committed to criminalise the most serious forms of exploitative conduct in the national industrial relations system;
  • Committing, in principle, to introducing a labour hire licensing scheme in WA and consulting with the Commonwealth about its commitment to a national labour hire registration scheme for the horticulture, meat processing, cleaning and security industries;
    Bolstering the Industrial Magistrates Court’s processes and powers to combat wage theft;
  • Supporting the strengthening of Government procurement processes, particularly in high-risk industries; and
  • Recognising that to combat wage theft there needs to be an appropriate number of industrial inspectors, and an expansion of compliance and education services.

Read the full media release here: https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2019/12/McGowan-Government-announces-actions-to-combat-wage-theft.aspx

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