Wage theft of ECEC professionals to become a criminal offence in QLD
Employers found to be deliberately or recklessly engaging in wage theft could face jail time in Queensland, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk accepting the idea in principle after a Parliamentary inquiry into the issue.
The term ‘wage theft’ covers a variety of infractions made by an employer, resulting in employees not receiving the wage to which they are legally entitled. Common forms of wage theft include non-payment of overtime, withholding a final paycheck when a worker has left a role, non-payment of all hours worked, paying below the minimum wage, not paying superannuation, or failing to pay at all.
The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector was specifically mentioned in the inquiry, possibly in relation to non-payment of overtime, working beyond scheduled hours for no extra payment, and superannuation issues, said to be prevalent within the ECEC sector.
The Queensland Government’s response to the inquiry was tabled on 15 February, with Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace saying the Government was committed to doing all it could at state level to address the wage theft issue.
“Protecting workers is in the Queensland Government’s DNA and that’s why we asked the committee to conduct this inquiry to fill the vacuum left by a federal Government asleep at the wheel,” Ms Grace said.
The committee made 17 recommendations aimed at eliminating wage theft, and ensuring workers are fairly compensated, with the Queensland Government accepting in principle all 17 recommendations.
Ms Grace said that six of the recommendations are within the Queensland Government’s jurisdiction to manage, and dealt with providing “better public information and education, ensuring procurement policies allow for action to be taken against employers that have underpaid workers, and taking action to ensure that wage recovery processes for Queensland workers are simple, quick, and low cost.”
The committee further recommended that wage theft in deliberate or reckless cases be criminalised at state level, a move which Ms Grace said was supported by many stakeholders from both employers and unions appearing before the inquiry.
Calling for support from Federal level, Ms Grace said that the Queensland Government would consult with stakeholders to determine the best way to ensure the recommendations were supported, saying the bulk of the recommendations were “predominantly matters in the federal jurisdiction”.
Of particular concern, Ms Grace said, were findings by the Fair Work Ombudsman that 49 per cent of hospitality employers state-wide, and 60 per cent in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, were not paying the correct wages. She outlined that wage theft took many forms, including unpaid penalty rates, unauthorised deductions from pays, unpaid work trials, the misuse of ABNs and sham contracting.
“The inquiry found that wage theft is affecting around 437,000, or one-in-five, Queensland workers and costing more than $1 billion every year. That’s $1 billion that’s missing from family budgets and that doesn’t flow to local businesses and the wider economy.
“The inquiry also found the annual loss associated with the underpayment or non-payment of superannuation was estimated at $1.12 billion.”
The committee received 49 submissions from employer organisations, unions, law firms, and community organisations. Submissions were frequently of very high quality, and outlined a number of practical options for reform at both the state and Commonwealth levels.
The committee heard evidence from 100 individuals at 24 hearings in Brisbane and regional Queensland. 360 workers also responded to an online survey asking for accounts of recent and historical wage theft from the public.