Workplace Safety and Consumer Affairs – Wage TheftSeptember 16, 2021
Dr WOODRUFF – Thank you. Minister, Victoria passed the Wage Theft Act 2020 and in last year’s Estimates we asked the Minister for Small Business, Hospitality and Events if your Government intended to pass wage theft legislation. She refused to answer the question and instead said that she would expect businesses to comply with the law. Since then, there have been reports of serious, high levels of wage theft in Tasmania. There was also a Senate committee on unlawful underpayment of employees’ remuneration that has yet to report; however, a range of submitters in that space claimed that wage theft is becoming increasingly common, and the ACTU has claimed worker exploitation has become a business model.
In Tasmania, the Fair Work Ombudsman in April this year reported almost $600 000 in unpaid wages for workers and businesses across the popular food precincts of North Hobart, Salamanca, Battery Point and Constitution Dock. Of 45 businesses that were ordered, 78 per cent were breaching workplace laws. Minister, will you commit to investigating the Wage Theft Act 2020 in Victoria, and commit to introduce a similar bill to protect workers’ wages in Tasmania?
Ms ARCHER – I appreciate the finding of the Fair Work Commission.
Dr WOODRUFF – It was reported as the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Ms ARCHER – The reason why we have the Fair Work Act and the Fair Work Commission is so that these matters can be dealt with, and employers who are underpaying or not paying sufficient wages are called to account to do that.
I have not seen the Victorian bill, and I am not quite sure what the purpose would be or whether or not that is necessary, based on the statistics here in Tasmania. If the problem is rife, and it was a state jurisdictional matter, fine, but we have a Fair Work system for a reason, and I am a little confused as to what the Wage Theft Act in Victoria does. Maybe they have a different system to us, but all employees in the private sector come under the Fair Work Act.
Dr WOODRUFF – The issue is that whatever we have got, it is not working.
Ms ARCHER – It is working, because in that case the employer was held to account, and they would have been ordered to pay the wages that they should have. That is the Fair Work system, and penalties that the act requires.
Dr WOODRUFF – There is a question of whether the penalties are high enough to provide a disincentive.
Ms ARCHER – Have you seen the Fair Work Act? It is pretty heavy. I can’t commit to something that I don’t think is necessary. At this point in time I would need convincing, because the Fair Work Act is thorough. It changed our industrial relations laws, certainly in our private sector here. It is a massive act. I used to practise in this area to do with enterprise bargaining agreements and all sorts, and the only thing that sits outside of the Fair Work Act is State Service employees.
Dr WOODRUFF – I asked whether you would commit to examining the Victorian law.
Ms ARCHER – I said I am not convinced there is a…