Criminalising wage theft won’t make the problem go away for migrant workers
On 31 October 2019, RLC made a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department on ‘improving protections of employee’s wages and entitlements: strengthening penalties for non-compliance’.
Earlier this year, the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce recommended that criminal sanctions be introduced for the ‘most serious forms of exploitative conduct’. Following these recommendations, the Government invited submissions on a range of issues, including whether the underpayment of employee wages should be criminalised.
Given this context, and RLC’s expertise in providing employment law advice to migrant workers, we confined our submissions to addressing the Attorney General’s criminal sanctions proposals and the effect they will have on migrant workers.
Concerns about the proposed reforms
RLC generally supports law reform initiatives that empower workers to reclaim their workplace entitlements, improve access to justice and deter employers from exploiting their employees. We have concerns, however, that the criminalisation reforms will not remove significant barriers for migrant workers or address the conditions that allow for their exploitation. RLC recommends a comprehensive approach to workforce regulation that addresses the multi-faceted causes of migrant worker exploitation in addition to the introduction of the criminalisation reforms.
RLC makes 20 recommendations to tackle the underlying workplace culture which is exploiting migrant workers, including:
Criminal penalties for wage theft should be introduced, accompanied by mechanisms that address the underlying vulnerabilities that allow the workplace exploitation of temporary visa holders.
The Department of Home Affairs should adopt a system where workers can be issued with a warning for visa breaches instead of having their visas cancelled.
A new wage theft tribunal should be established so that underpaid workers can more easily recover their wages.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is given additional funding to assist employees calculate underpayment claims.
The Australian Border Force should take more action against employers that breach migration law, such as clawbacks of sponsorship costs or income paid to workers.
The Department of Home Affairs should introduce and publicise details of an amnesty to the 60 day limit for a temporary work (skilled) visa holder to find a new sponsor where the worker raises allegations of workplace exploitation.
RLC’s submissions on the criminalisation of wage theft has been submitted to the Attorney-General’s Department. You can read the full submission here:
RLC is available for free and confidential employment law advice on 02 9698 7277.