What if somebody was taking $10, $20 or even $50 out of your paycheck each week – before you’ve even seen it – and pocketing it for themselves? What if that person was your boss?
It’s the same thing as hacking into someone’s bank account or stealing cash from someone’s wallet – and it’s happening all the time.
Wage theft has become a business model in this country, allowing employers to profit off more work for less pay.
It is certainly one of the biggest issues affecting the Australian workforce. Estimates from 2020 suggest that as much as $1.35bn in wages are underpaid each year.
Overall, that’s about 13 per cent of the total workforce and as much as 21 per cent of employees in high-risk industries such as construction, healthcare, retail, accommodation and food service.
What exactly is wage theft?
The first step is for you to know if your wages are being stolen is knowing what it looks like.
Wage theft is an umbrella term that covers various types of underpayment, and the most prevalent forms can be categorised as such:
- Not being paid for hours worked
- Forced to work through paid breaks
- Not being paid penalty rates
- Being paid below legal minimum wage
- Not being paid certain entitlements such as leave, allowances or superannuation
This means that if you have experienced any of the above, you have not been paid for the work that you do.
How are employers able to get away with wage theft?
It can be difficult to identify when you’ve been a victim of wage theft. Employers can successfully hide instances of underpayment with relative ease or use their authority to intimidate their employees out of speaking up. Some of the categories outlined above can be invisible on face-value, leaving many cases of wage theft undetected.
Even if you do find that your wages have been stolen, the next step is then figuring out where to go. We’ve found that the biggest reason that people don’t speak up about wage theft is because they don’t know where to go.
Moreover, the most popular recourse for recovering stolen wages is through internal processes such as HR departments. HR often works in the interests of bosses and therefore have a lower success rate in recovering wages.
In short – wage theft is so prevalent because employers think they can get away with it. But we have some good news: they won’t on our watch.
What can you do to address wage theft and recover what is owed to you?
There are various courses of action you can take if you are experiencing wage theft. The best way to start is to contact your union and use their wage theft recovery services.
In fact, in nearly every case of wage theft discovery, investigation and recovery, unions are behind it.
Unions provide a range of services to ensure that you can recover the wages stolen from you. Compared with other recourses for wage theft (such as HR, Fair Work and even legal advice), unions are typically the least costly and most successful in aiding workers to recover their stolen wages.
If you think you are experiencing wage theft, you can speak up and contact your union for support.