The Morrison Government has confirmed that it is drafting changes to the law that will see the “criminalisation of worker exploitation”, as confirmed by the Prime Minister in question time this week.  The exact shape of the legislative changes remains unknown at this time, however the PM was clear, that the broadening of legislative penalties to include not just the recently increased fines, but also criminal charges and jail time for those businesses and directors that exploit employees, was something that the Government is committed to.  Further the PM called on Labour to support the proposed changes in front of Parliament now aimed at the prevention of “wage theft” from employee entitlements.

Following the spate of underpayment and exploitation cases uncovered in various industries, and the very public settlement involving celebrity chef George Calombaris, the Opposition pushed the Government in question time to outline what action it was taking to stop underpayment of workers, and the Prime Minister clearly told Parliament that “right now, the Attorney-General is drafting laws to deal with criminalising worker exploitation”. 

This comment comes after the submission of the Migrant Worker Taskforce report and speaking outside of Parliament after question time, Attorney-General and IR Minister Christian Porter expanded on the PMs comments outlining that the Government is exploring how criminal penalties could be applied for “the most serious forms of deliberate worker exploitation”.  In later comments Mr Porter outlined that the Government is sending a clear message that worker exploitation “will not be tolerated by this Government”.

Drafting of the changes around the criminalisation of exploitation of workers is underway now, and will be subject to a consultation period prior to introduction to Parliament.

The Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2019, is before Parliament now, and is aimed at protecting employee entitlement funds, which Mr Porter outlined are not subject to “proper regulation in terms of governance or in terms of transparency.”

He claimed the results have not been in the best interests of workers and involved the “misappropriation” of their wages from the funds.

These changes are another reminder that there is no option for businesses to put their heads in the sand on employment compliance.  Getting employment compliance right is hard, but failure to do so can cripple a business financially, damage a brands reputation and that of operators, and soon, could result in a criminal record that will follow operators forever.

ACAPMA Members are reminded that they can seek the advice and assistance of workplace relations professionals via employment@acapma.com.au