For years I have been campaigning in the cleaning and facility management industries on the fair wages issue and the eradication of unethical sub-contracting practices. You can read about corruption in our industry here and here and here while wages rip-offs are here or here.
Fortunately, Queensland Unions have backed an in-principle recommendation to send dodgy employers who deliberately or recklessly underpay workers to gaol. The recommendation was one of 17 contained in the State Government’s response to a Parliamentary committee inquiry into wage theft released on 15 February.
Queensland Council of Unions General Secretary Ros McLennan said the blight of wage theft affects the entire community: workers, families, law-abiding businesses and the wider community. “Criminalisation of wage theft is a real deterrent for those employers and organisations that think ripping off their workers is a business model,” she said.
Workers are in such a bad position. Where you have a combination of low wages, low hours then workers are desperate for work just to cover their living expenses. Unpaid overtime or training is also an issue. If a boss asks a worker to come in half hour earlier for some training and its unpaid, people say yes and bite the bullet, or they say no and risk being put in the problem-maker category. If a business requires training for a worker to be profitable for the business, then that business needs to pay for that time. Unless we all fight for these issues the problem will continue. I’ve seen it happen so many times. And it is the worst in casual work.
It is like an abusive relationship. It happens when one party is too powerful. Workers have no bargaining power and are made vulnerable by going from one underpaid job to another. The most straight forward solution is to do what is being proposed – ban all exploitative practices and to punish offenders with lengthy gaol time and massive fines, while rewarding those who come forward with a reimbursement of their entitled monies, to be paid from the fine. Finally, asset sale should be mandated including from the employer’s own personal assets.
I think that, while it’s all very well passing these laws, they will need to be rigorously enforced.
I would suggest that businesses should ensure someone in management is nominated as a responsible person – someone who guarantees that wages get paid correctly. Penalties should then include forfeit of personal assets, even in the case of limited liability company. Further, in the case of a set number of breaches (indicating a pattern of behaviour) within a five-year period, then we should be looking at imposing custodial sentences.