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“There’ll be punishing nes for companies and jail terms for individuals guilty of systematic wage theft”
THE TRANSPORT WORKERS
UNION (TWU) has seen its push to criminalise deliberate non-payment endorsed by New South Wales opposition leader Luke Foley.
The Australian Labor Party ( ALP) move marks progress in the nation’s most populous state and is likely to resonate in other states.
And though a specific link with tackling ‘phoenix’ company practices has not been made, the Transport Workers Union ( TWU) is sensitive to that path to avoiding entitlements and points to recent ALP work on the issue.
“It hasn’t been specifically mentioned in our motions but the legal changes would cover the underlying phoenixing issue,” a union spokesperson tells ATN.
Foley announced the move in the ALP NSW/ACT conference address as the first item of a general five-point plan “to eliminate the exploitation of vulnerable workers”.
A future state ALP government would “criminalise the deliberate failure to pay wages and other entitlements”.
“There’ll be punishing fines for companies and jail terms for individuals guilty of systematic wage theft ,” said Foley.
The other four wages and conditions initiatives would be a:
• Franchise network laws overhaul that would make head franchisors liable
• Young workers’ protections boost through increased workplace inspectors’ powers
• Hire company licensing scheme under the industrial relations commission that would include a ‘fit and proper person’ test on labour hire operators, owners and directors
• And, reinstatement of Sunday penalty rates. TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon praised Foley for his position on the issue.
“When an employer refuses to pay the correct rates, allowances or superannuation, the worst that can happen is that the Fair Work Ombudsman asks them to pay it back,” Sheldon says.
“This is not a deterrent: it’s an invitation to see what you can get away with.”
The union says its TWU branch has “so far this (sic) recovered over $750,000 in unpaid wages and allowances for members”.
“Every industry has horror stories of wage theft ,” Sheldon adds.
“The TWU is pursing hundreds of cases, including one company which underpaid three truck drivers by over $100,000.”