Walk the line - underpaying workers may soon land you in jail

Over the last few years some businesses have made it really easy for the Fair Work Ombudsman to prosecute them over systemic underpayment of workers. There was much publicity concerning 7-Eleven franchisees, but demonstrably the problem was more widespread.

Beyond just a few businesses doing the wrong thing, the problem has been far more widespread. A review of the matters before Courts show many of those who have been short changed are vulnerable workers i.e. young and temporary migrants who have work rights under international student and working holiday maker (backpacker) visas.

In response to the revelation of such widespread underpayments in certain industry sectors, the federal governments Migrant Workers' Taskforce was tasked with examining the laws, enforcement and penalties associated with the exploitation of such workers.

Last week the Taskforce dropped its final report and there are some very serious recommendations.

It is recommended that for the most serious forms of exploitative conduct, such as where that conduct is clear, deliberate and systemic, criminal sanctions be introduced in the most appropriate legislative vehicle. That's right, you would go to jail.

Other recommendations include:

  • The Government give the courts specific power to make additional enforcement orders, including adverse publicity orders and banning orders.
  • It is recommended that legislation be amended to prohibit persons from advertising jobs with pay rates that would breach the Fair Work Act 2009.
  • The general level of penalties for breaches of wage exploitation related provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 be increased to be more in line with those applicable in other business laws, especially consumer laws.

Deliberately underpaying workers is a completely unfair attempt to uncompetitively gouge profit from illegal activity. Those businesses doing the right thing won't have a worry, but if you have any questions contact the Workforce Guardian team.

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