Wage theft – the new model for big business

Published: 08/09/2017
Category: Industrial Relations
Published: 08/09/2017
Category: Industrial Relations

No worker should ever have their wages stolen, but it has become a widespread and common problem in Australia.

Roughly one-third of Australian workers are victims of wage theft each year, robbing workers around the country of an estimated $1.35 billion annually.

It can occur in any industry, but wage theft has become common practice in some sections of the workforce including agriculture, commercial cleaning, meat processing, hospitality, retail and accommodation.

This factsheet outlines what wage theft is and what you can do if you are underpaid.

What is wage theft?

Wage theft is the deliberate underpayment of what you are entitled to.

Depending on where you work, this can mean being paid less than you are entitled to under the relevant award or agreement, or less than the national minimum wage.

Wage theft can come in different forms than underpayment of wages, including unpaid superannuation, leave, overtime, training periods and penalty rates.

Wage theft and the law

The current laws make wage theft too easy and the punishment too light. Wage theft is now so common that in some places it’s the business model. There are business owners all over Australia getting rich by stealing from their staff and the current industrial laws make it far too easy.

Australian unions continue to push the Federal Government for policy and legislative reform to prevent wage theft, including the criminalisation of wage theft.

Victoria’s wage theft laws

On 1 July 2021, it became a crime for an employer in Victoria to deliberately underpay employees or dishonestly withhold employee entitlements. Employers found guilty of wage theft are punishable by a fine of up to $198,264 or up to 10 years’ jail for individuals and a fine of up to $991,320 for companies.

Queensland’s wage theft laws

 The Queensland Criminal Code includes deliberate, intentional behaviour leading to under or non-payment of entitlements as a criminal offence. Employers engaging in deliberate wage theft from their employees face the risk of up to 10 years imprisonment.

What to do if you think you are being underpaid

If you think that you are being underpaid, follow these steps:

  • Find out how much you should be getting paid (including superannuationpenalty rates and other entitlements). If you’re not sure how to do this, the best thing to do is speak to your union.
  • Compare what you should be paid to how much you’re actually being paid by reading your payslip. 
  • If you think that you are not being paid correctly get in touch with your workplace representative from your union to get advice on what to do.

In some cases a simple mistake with pay can be fixed quickly with your employer, however in many cases further action with your union might be required.

Wage theft – the new model for big business

Wage theft – the new model for big business