ACTU President Michele O’Neil addresses the press ahead of today’s Senate inquiry into wage theft

A federal Senate inquiry will today hear that the Government’s proposed Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill will be a disaster for workers who are already struggling to make ends meet amidst the worst economic downturn this century.

At a press conference ahead of the hearing in Melbourne, Victorian Labor Senator Jess Walsh said that the proposed changes would make it open season for bad employers to once again indulge in systemic wage theft.

“If it [the Omnibus Bill] passes, the Government will effectively be running a protection racket for unscrupulous employers. This bill wipes out [Victoria’s] wage theft laws that most workers have fought hard for,” Senator Walsh said.

“If the bill passes, workers will find it much harder to prosecute their employers for wage theft and employers will be given a free pass in the state of Victoria.

“The IR omnibus bill is bad law, and it’s bad law because it’s going to hurt working people cut their pay and cut their conditions. If the bill passes workers will find it much harder to prosecute their employers for wage theft and employers will be given a free pass.

“If it passes, then the next George Colombaris, the next Rockpool, the next dinner by Heston could very well get off the hook and avoid prosecution.”

ACTU President Michele O’Neil was adamant that Christian Porter’s proposed changes to industrial relations provisions would further erode the pay and conditions of workers at a time when insecure work and under employment were putting enormous stress on Australian families.

“The Omnibus Bill is bad law, and it’s bad law because it’s going to hurt working people, cut their pay and cut their conditions,” Ms O’Neil said.

“We see it happening all over the country where hardworking people aren’t getting paid even the minimum legal entitlements, working hours more than their roster, to work with sometimes no pay at all, getting less than the hourly rate that they’re legally entitled to, not getting their breaks, long days and long nights when they should be paid properly.

"The IR Omnibus Bill will make wage theft worse for workers in Victoria and Queensland," ACTU President @MicheleONeilAU Click To Tweet

“Instead, the big companies that are employing them are reaping in the profits, and these workers are left underpaid, and subject to wage theft.

“[The IR Omnibus Bill] will make wage theft worse for workers in Victoria and Queensland. That’s because the laws that are in place in those states will be overrun by this new Commonwealth law.

“It will mean that there’s a lower bar, so that when you’re trying to get your rights enforced, when you’re trying to hold bosses responsible for stealing your wages, it’ll actually be much, much harder to prosecute them, to hold them to account, to make them responsible for the fact that they’ve stolen workers’ wages.”

Jules Gibson has been working in hospitality for over 16 years, and will address the Senate inquiry, reinforcing the message that the new laws will be devastating for chefs, wait staff and all those trying to make a living in the industry.

Ms Gibson had to fight hard to recover money that was stolen from her wages by a previous employer. She believes the proposed laws are set to see history repeat itself. 

“This IR policy is a kick in the guts to me as a Hospo Voice member and as a hospitality worker for 16 years,” Ms Gibson said.

“We worked really hard and campaigned for a long time to get these really strong laws, and this bill totally undermines that. It means that money that we’re entitled to, that is owed to us, will be taken away from us.

“I recovered $18,000 in wage theft, and it’s totally changed my life. It’s changed my ability for a better lifestyle, I have choices and options that I wouldn’t have prior to getting this money back.

“The idea that this is going to rob other people from having access to that money is just so insulting. Workers are sick and tired of being exploited and abused like this, and I’ve had enough and we’re going to fight this, and I’m not letting the Federal Government get away and claim that they are protecting workers when they are not.”

The fate of the IR Omnibus Bill now rests with the Senate cross bench, with a vote expected to take place sometime next week when Federal Parliament resumes.

Want to do more to protect workers from wage theft? Join our fight against the dangerous Omnibus Bill.

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Date Published: 11/03/2021 Category: On The Job

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