What is the real extent of wage and super theft?

Who knows how much in wages and superannuation is being ripped from the pockets of Queensland workers?

A State Parliament report from 2018 estimated around $1.1 billion a year in wages alone, with around another $1.3 billion in super going missing.

Huge corporate players such as Woollies, Wesfarmers and SuperCheapAuto have come out in recent days admitting to having “underpaid” workers by hundreds of millions of dollars.

These recently revealed rip-offs must swell the real amount in wages stolen from hardworking Queenslanders and their families.

There’s more wage theft going on below the surface than you can see.

We need tougher laws to stamp out wage theft and punish dodgy bosses.

The federal government keeps talking about action but the real extent of wage theft figure grows larger every day.

Queensland Unions are supporting the push for stronger laws and a practical system that works to reveal and stop wage theft.

We need these changes before workers sink below the rising tide of increasing costs and low wage growth.

Do you have an experience of wage theft?

Tell us your story in the form below so we can add it to our case studies for the Senate inquiry into wage theft to be held later this year.

Morrison government sanctioning super theft

The Morrison Government is moving forward with legislation to provide an amnesty for all theft of superannuation since the first day of the superannuation system – a move which has sparked vocal opposition from unions.

Industry Super Australia has previously reported that workers are losing $5.9 billion in super every year to theft.

Queensland Unions believe all workers should have an easily accessible mechanism to enforce unpaid wages and entitlements, including super.

If the Morrison Government was serious about ending theft of superannuation it would increase enforcement, penalties, and allow unions back into workplaces to inspect pay records and to initiate recovery action against employers. 

The proposed amnesty provides a period of two years for employers to disclose any theft of superannuation for which they can then avoid any kind of sanction.

The Morrison Government has previously claimed that this amnesty would recoup $200 million of this in total, covering a period of more than 27 years. Adding up to less than 3 per cent of just one year of stolen super.

Superannuation is a basic workplace right and research shows that theft of super is systemic.

Morrison and the LNP are sanctioning the theft of workers’ super if they go ahead with their proposed amnesty.

Experienced Superannuation or Wage Theft?

Legal firm under “wage theft” probe

News is emerging today of a top-tier law firm under review for underpaying its own junior lawyers while it represents supermarket giant Woolworths currently embroiled in a $300 million wage theft case.

The Australian Financial Review reports that “the same top-tier law firm advising Woolworths on its $300 million underpayment scandal has been underpaying its own staff, as gruelling work hours threaten to spark an underpayment crisis in the legal industry”.

“Big six law firm Ashurst has undertaken an extraordinary 10-year review into whether its $80,000-a-year graduate lawyers were paid below minimum rates as a result of working long hours,” the Fin says.

“Individual back payments to date are as high as $15,000,” it reported.

Workers docked wages for customers who walk out

Queensland Unions have expressed concerns over recent reports about hospitality behemoth The Mantle Group recouping wages from workers who had customers walk out without paying from their busy restaurants.

Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Michael Clifford was scathing about the practice of docking wages for “runners”.

“This is just another form of wage theft that we see far too often, especially with young people.”

Queensland Unions have been collecting stories of wage theft to make a submission to a federal Senate inquiry by mid-February 2020.

“The wage theft inquiry in Queensland last year exposed that there was around $1.2 billion stolen from workers each year, and this is just another example of that problem,” he told media.

“We need serious action to stop this theft – and it needs to be on a number of levels,” he said.

“There needs to be better education for workers and for business, there needs to be easier access for workers to be able to recover wages that are stolen, and we need to criminalise this activity,” he said.

A wake-up call for Woolworths and the rest of Australia

Woolworths’ admission last year that it has underpaid workers $300 million over a decade by incorrectly applying the Award to salaried staff remains a wake-up call for the industry and for the Government.

Where workers are paid an annualised salary or via other individual arrangements those arrangements can never be lower than the relevant award. Award compliance is every employer’s obligation. Employers must have ongoing payroll audits to ensure compliance at all times.

The QCU and ACTU believe that the federal Government must also step up and make structural changes to give working people more power.

“There can be no excuse for not paying the people who work for you what they are owed,” said ACTU Secretary Sally McManus.

“Woolworths has systemically underpaid workers for a decade, and this has only come to light because they self-reported.  Self-regulation just isn’t good enough. This one took nine years to come to light. We need more power for working people and their unions to regularly check the books and ensure that all employers are paying their workers properly.

“The Morrison Government is doing nothing to address the wage theft crisis, and its Ensuing Integrity bill would make it harder for unions to do the job of making sure working people are paid correctly,” she said.

Employers will not abandon illegal business models until they believe there is a significant risk of being caught and facing substantial penalties, which must form part of the solution.

The FWO is unable to deal with the scale of wage theft occurring in this country. The introduction of anti-union legislation since 1996 has meant that unions are no longer able to enter workplaces and inspect pay records. This crisis is the result of the erosion of those rights.

“Woolworths must pay back the money, but we must also change the system so that underpayments on this scale aren’t  met with a slap on the wrist,” Ms McManus 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.