25 November 2019

Are you missing $800 in stolen wages? Or $3,400 in super? Or both?

| Dominic Giannini
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Wage theft

Canberrans are losing $24.5 million every year to wage-theft says Unions ACT. Photo: File.

Is your pocket feeling a little light? If it is, you might be a victim of wage theft, which Unions ACT estimates costs the average Canberran $800 a year.

In total, Unions ACT says Territory residents are losing $24.5 million to underpayments and non-payments after a report from PWC released this week put the cost of national wage-theft at $1.35 billion, affecting about 1.6 million workers annually.

Unions ACT estimates 30,500 workers in the ACT lose about $800 each year as a result of dodgy accounting practices.

“The vast scale of wage-theft in Canberra is appalling, and the cost to everyday workers whose wages are stolen is massive,” says Secretary Alex White.

“Dodgy employers are stealing almost a thousand dollars a year from the pockets of their employees. If it were simply a matter of ‘complexity’ as corporate lobby groups claim, then there would be far higher rates of overpayment, but strangely the so-called complexity always seems to benefit the boss.”

Back in June, Unions ACT released their full report into the wage-theft of young workers, finding that more than half of workers under the age of 25 had experienced wage theft in the past 12-months.

“Young workers are facing a wage-theft crisis, with a growing number of adult employers making the decision to steal wages from vulnerable young people,” Mr White said at the time.

“Dodgy employers are increasingly taking the calculated risk when it comes to wage-theft that they won’t be caught, or if they are, there will be few consequences.”

The figures are worse when it comes to superannuation.

Research from Industry Super Australia estimated that 45,000 Canberrans are missing an average of $3,400 in superannuation as a result of under-payments and non-payments by employers.

The ACT Government sought to address wage-theft across the Territory by introducing new legislation in August to ensure workers can better access their entitlements during legal disputes.

The Bill, which was passed in September by the Legislative Assembly, makes it easier for fair work disputes to be heard in the Magistrates Court.

Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the Bill also improved access to justice by providing a simple, accessible and efficient process for workers and employers to settle fair work matters.

“The compulsory mediation provisions within the Bill are designed to assist parties to fair work matters to resolve their disputes early and with the minimum of legal form and technicality,” Mr Ramsay said in August.

“The Bill will also allow officials of industrial associations to represent their members in small claim matters before the Court, with leave.”

Another Bill giving workers better access to compensation claims has been introduced by Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety, Suzanne Orr, and is currently before the Assembly.

Ms Orr told Region Media the government is investing in WorkSafe ACT to improve workplace safety and only accepts tenders from employers who are independently audited to ensure they are complying with their workplace obligations.

“The ACT Government is committed to improving employment standards for working Canberrans and has been taking action to ensure employers to do the right thing,” she said.

“The Federal Government sets the industrial relations rules via the Fair Work Scheme and the ACT Government will continue to lobby the [Fair Work] Ombudsman to introduce more inspectors and actions specifically for the ACT, as the PWC report clearly highlights that more can be done to protect our workers’ rights.”

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