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Court judgement proves need for new wage theft offence in SA

February 16, 2018

Court judgement proves need for new wage theft offence in SA

Unions have welcomed Labor’s announcement that if elected it will introduce a new penalty for bosses who recklessly and repeatedly rip off their workers’ wages and superannuation.

SA Unions State Secretary Joe Szakacs says wage theft is endemic across Australia and has become a business model relied on by businesses to make profits.

“Wage theft - including the failure to pay a worker’s superannuation – has long term consequences for that person’s entire working life and reaches into the amount of money they’ll have to live on when they retire.”

Just this week, six tradies who worked in the electrical contracting industry for a private company in Adelaide were awarded penalties against their former employer after their wages and superannuation were stolen from them.

The men, who worked for the company Go Wasp Pty Ltd, started pursuing their employer for unpaid entitlements, with the backing of their union, after they were made redundant but never paid out any of their entitlements. They also had overtime and superannuation payments stolen from them throughout their employment.

In the SA Employment Tribunal, Deputy President Lieschke fined the company $120,000 in penalties, personally penalised the two directors $23,250 and $23,000, and awarded the workers a total of $55,145.

It was only with the backing of their union, the CEPU – Plumbing and Electrical Division, that they had the power and resources to fight for their entitlements.

CEPU SA Secretary John Adley said that for twelve months, these employers breached court orders and failed to either show up in court or provide evidence about what they had paid their workers.

“It took more than twelve months but we never gave up fighting for these workers. That’s what unions do.”

Secretary Joe Szakacs says that workers need the backing of their union to have the power and resources necessary to fight wage theft like this.

“Unions stand up for workers who’ve had their wages and super stolen and we’ll be able to do more of that with new wage theft laws proposed in South Australia.

“Businesses like these, who knowingly and recklessly continue to rip-off their workers, will now have to face the full consequences of the law.”

The Labor Government has pledged to amend the Criminal Law Consolidation Act to include the criminal offence of wage theft, where an employer and/or owner of a business knowingly or recklessly and repeatedly underpays their workers.

“We’re not talking about some bosses who make a mistake with their payroll. This is about bosses who set up their business model in a way that pays people below the legal minimum. In some cases, this leaves workers being paid less that the national minimum wage and left living in poverty.

Mr Szakacs said there have been many cases of wage theft in South Australia, particularly in food and hospitality, agriculture and meat processing industries. In some cases, workers in the agricultural industries are paid as little as $5 an hour.

‘Stealing workers’ wages is a crime and it’s rife, most particularly among migrant workers.

“We now call on the Liberal Party and Nick Xenophon to tell us where they stand on working people being ripped off.

“Do they support big fines for bosses or not?”