Wage theft inquiry vote shows where LNP stands on worker rights

Queensland Unions expect the recently announced parliamentary wage theft inquiry will be swamped by underpaid and ripped-off workers.

State Parliament last night passed a motion for an inquiry into wage theft, with all LNP members voting against.

It will report back to Parliament by 16 November 2018.

Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan expected an overwhelming response in submissions to the Inquiry, with workers left with few other options to pursue wages stolen from them.

“These workers feel abandoned by the federal Coalition, which shamelessly puts its pursuit of workers and their representatives ahead of the scourge of wage theft and worker underpayment.

“In this year’s Budget the federal Coalition increased funding for the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and the Registered Organisations Commission, two bodies it specifically created to limit the ability of unions to fight for fair wages and justice,” she said.

She said last night’s State Parliament motion to establish the inquiry, passed 53 votes to 39 votes, and laid bare the state LNP’s attitude towards wage theft.

“Every LNP member opposed this inquiry, and sought to deflect responsibility from the federal government for its abject failure to stand up for workers.

“Wage theft is an issue that affects thousands of Queensland workers, and seems to be the preferred business model for dodgy operators. These operators need to be identified and stamped out.

“The LNP should be aware that wage theft has an impact across the community – on workers, families, law-abiding businesses and the wider economy,” she said.

The parliamentary inquiry will travel around the state to hear complaints from workers, unions and responsible businesses about allegations of staff being underpaid or denied their full entitlements.

Unions will also call on the State Government to consider tighter laws to crack down on wage theft with more stringent checks and tougher penalties.

Ms McLennan said wage theft was not confined to underpaying backpackers or young workers.

“The business practices of major companies like Caltex, 7-Eleven, Dominos and Pizza have been exposed as complicit in underpayment of workers. It can’t go on and unions support this inquiry 100 per cent,” she said.

Wage theft is endemic: report

A landmark study has found wage theft is endemic across Australia with a quarter of international students and a third of backpackers earning $12 or less per hour, around half the legal minimum wage.

The new report presents the most comprehensive Australian research conducted into the systemic underpayment of international students, backpackers and other temporary migrants around the country.

It paints a bleak picture of the conditions experienced by a high proportion of the more than 900,000 temporary migrant workers who represent more than 10 per cent of the Australian labour market.

Read more on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

Hall of Shame – Superannuation Theft

Australian workers have lost out on more than $17 billion in superannuation payments since 2009 from shonky operators and businesses now at the centre of tax office and government probes.

After a lifetime of work, all Australians deserve a comfortable retirement. For most people their superannuation will play an important part in helping them secure a modest lifestyle.

Superannuation underpayments – or in some cases non-payments – are theft.

Australian workers were short-changed more than $3.27bn in super payments during fiscal 2014-15, according to an Australian Tax Office study, with construction companies, retailers, food services and accommodation providers among the worst offenders.

A new Senate report reveals an even more alarming scale of theft, with as much as $5.6 billion a year in workers’ superannuation being underpaid by employers.

The report also says there is overwhelming evidence the ATO spends too much time sitting on its hands waiting for workers to file a complaint and not enough ensuring employers were meeting their obligations.

The economic references committee’s report highlights one case where a group of workers who complained to the ATO heard nothing for three years. The workers then got a letter telling them the company had gone into liquidation and the ATO could do nothing for them.

The committee took evidence that as many as 2.76 million employees across Australia are underpaid $5.6 billion in super annually.

Superannuation underpayment is most common among small businesses, but the practices of some of Australia’s largest companies are also under investigation.

The Commonwealth Bank has been accused of refusing to pay the full employer superannuation entitlement to more than 7,000 part-time workers.

The Finance Sector Union (FSU) claims some of the bank’s lowest-paid workers have been “ripped off” on the compulsory employer component since 2009.

FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano said the underpaid part-time Commonwealth Bank (CBA) staff work in branches, call centres and administration areas with set hours each week.

The CBA has been ripping off some of its lowest-paid staff since at least 2009.

Corporations making wage theft part of their business plans

Many Australian corporations have included ripping off their own workers as part of their business plans, Queensland unions say.

Recent findings against major fast food franchise Pizza Hut add to increasing evidence of systemic and widespread wage rorts and underpayments from well-known corporate brands.

The Queensland Council of Unions have outlined these and other breaches in a submission this week to a Senate inquiry into the corporate avoidance of the Fair Work Act.

QCU General Secretary Ros McLennan said today the underpayment of wages is often a deliberate decision by business to not pay employees their legal entitlements, which is theft.

“In particular, sham contracting is not a clerical mistake but rather a wilful attempt by an employer to avoid a raft of obligations, including minimum wages,” she said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has issued compliance notices to recover wages for underpayments, infringement notices and formal letters of caution to Pizza Hut franchisees, 92 percent of which were said to be non-compliant.

Pizza Hut franchisees were found to have underpaid delivery drivers, wrongly classifying them as independent contractors and failing to keep adequate records.

“If you were a Pizza Hut employee who removed the equivalent cash from the till you would have your employment terminated, and, at worst, face criminal charges and even jail,” Ms McLennan said.

She said major brands – including Pizza Hut and 7-11 – seem to think they can rip off their workers with impunity.

“They have no regard for their public reputation, particularly when they break the law and steal from their most vulnerable employees and only receive a slap on the wrist from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

“The light treatment of non-compliant employers appears incongruous given the way in which the Abbott and Turnbull Governments have pursued unions and workers, particularly in the building and construction industry, for supposed breaches of industrial laws and right of entry provisions,” said Ms McLennan.

In the case of Pizza Hut, 11 infringement notices were issued resulting in only $6,300 in fines for a brand with 270 stores across Australia and turns over an estimated $400 million a year.

Ms McLennan said the federal government had allowed a corporate culture to flourish where ripping off employees was an accepted business practice.

“It’s time for this federal Liberal government to show it will pursue corruption and lawlessness no matter how close it is to home,” she said.

The Senate inquiry submission outlines numerous instances of corporate avoidance of Fair Work Act legislation, including abuse of labour hire arrangements.

Ms McLennan called for more resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman, and said unions needed stronger rights to investigate suspected breaches of employment law.