A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, is an ideal deeply rooted in Australia’s labour history and egalitarian values. To most, it is an indisputable right that a worker is fairly and duly remunerated in accordance with their effort and the law. Yet recent public high-profile cases of significant worker exploitation, federal inquiries, and academic studies have found that wage theft is prevalent and going largely unanswered.
The task given to the committee was to inquire into the incidence, forms and impacts of wage theft in Queensland. To let Queenslanders tell their story. And, to report on the effectiveness of the current regulatory framework at state and federal level in dealing with wage theft, and recommend options for eradicating the practice into the future. ...
Overwhelmingly, the committee heard that wage theft is imposing significant costs on Queensland workers, their families, businesses and the economy. Conservative estimates suggest that over 437,000 Queensland workers are not receiving their full wages, and that a resulting five percent loss in income for these individuals would amount to an aggregate $1.22 billion loss annually. In terms of superannuation, the annual loss associated with the underpayment or non-payment of superannuation has been estimated at $1.12 billion. Further, annual reductions in consumer spending in Queensland and in federal tax revenue have respectively been estimated at $100 million and $60 million. Taken together, these losses could amount to almost $2.5 billion stripped from the Queensland economy every year.
The committee heard that affected workers feel powerless to reclaim their lost wages and entitlements, and have been largely left alone to do so by an under resourced federal regulatory system. We can and must do more.The Committee's recommendations are -
The Committee recommends the Queensland Government conduct a public education campaign to assist in the fight against wage theft, including outlining information on the findings from this inquiry and the measures the Queensland Government is taking in response, and how and where affected workers can go for help to recover their lost wages.
The committee recommends the Queensland Government re-establish the tripartite Industrial Relations Education Committee under the auspices of the Office of the Industrial Relations to conduct visits to schools, TAFE and VET providers, and universities. The visits would be conducted on an optin basis and provide information focusing on the rights and responsibilities of both workers and employers.
The committee recommends the Queensland Government, through the Department of Education, work with the higher education sector in Queensland to ensure international students have access to relevant information and advice on their workplace rights in Australia, including the right to join a union and where to go for further information.
The committee recommends the Federal Government introduce a national labour hire licensing scheme so the benefits of the Queensland scheme can apply across the country.
The committee recommends the Queensland Government ensure its current procurement policies allow for appropriate and proportionate action to be taken against companies that have underpaid workers.
The committee recommends the Federal Government consider measures to improve worker access to representation in the workplace and ensure compliance with industrial instruments, using the model of the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld).
The committee recommends the Federal Government appoint additional Federal Circuit Court Judges in Queensland, and ensure Queensland retains its proportionate share of Federal Circuit Court judges.
The committee recommends the Queensland Government review and take actions available to it, to ensure that wage recovery processes for Queensland workers are simple, quick and low-cost. This should include further investigation of the following options: a) establishing a dedicated industrial division within the Queensland Magistrates Court, in line with the example in Victoria b) investigating the inclusion of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission or Industrial Court as an eligible state court under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) c) reviewing relevant forms and processes to ensure the legal process is simple and user friendly for workers and their representatives d) waiving or reducing current court filing fees for wage theft matters. Inquiry into wage theft in Queensland
The Committee recommends unpaid superannuation be included as a recoverable entitlement under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee scheme and the Fair Entitlements Guarantee scheme be extended to temporary overseas visa workers who are currently denied access.
The committee recommends that the Federal Government fund a workplace rights information and support service based in Queensland, as is funded for other Australian jurisdictions and was formerly the case, up until the removal of funding in 2016 by the then Federal Government.
The committee recommends the Federal Government take immediate steps to appoint additional Fair Work inspectors in Queensland under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
The committee recommends the Federal Government establish a full, independent review into the performance, resourcing and culture of the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure that it can respond to wage theft and support affected workers in an effective and timely fashion. Among other things, the review should consider the findings and recommendations of the Best Practice Review into Workplace Health and Safety Queensland which have driven a cultural shift from education to compliance.
The committee recommends superannuation be included as an industrial entitlement in the National Employment Standards.
The committee recommends the Fair Work Commission be given the power to assess the status of an employment contract similar to that available to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission under the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (Qld), and, further consideration be given to removing the ‘reckless defence’ from the offence of sham contracting under section 357(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and introducing a new ‘reasonable person’ test for determining whether an employer has engaged in sham contracting.
The committee recommends the Queensland Government legislate to make wage theft a criminal offence, where the conduct is proven to be deliberate or reckless. The Queensland Government should consider the variety of models and approaches for criminalising wage theft that were presented to the inquiry and consult further with stakeholders in regard to a preferred model.
The committee recommends an automatic termination date be legislated for remaining Work Choices ‘zombie’ agreements, with consideration given to necessary transitional arrangements and protections to ensure no workers are disadvantaged as a result.
The committee recommends reform of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to more adequately accommodate emerging forms of non-traditional employment. This should include consideration of law reform to broaden the definition of worker and provide broader access to the benefits of collective bargaining, minimum standards for pay and conditions, and access to the Fair Work Commission.