7 March 2019

Exploitation of workers in Australia is now at such a crisis point that even the Coalition Government has been forced to accept that criminalising wage theft is necessary. It has accepted in principle all recommendations of the Migrant Worker Taskforce, including criminalising “clear, deliberate and systemic” wage theft. Other suggestions include banning advertising jobs for below legal minimum wages, introducing banning orders to remove bad bosses from the economy, and extending liability to head contractors and franchisors. These have been core demands from the union movement for years. At the heart of the problem, though, is the Fair Work Ombudsman: “A major area of consideration relates to the adequacy of the enforcement response of the relevant agencies, primarily the Fair Work Ombudsman… It is confusingly styled as an ombudsman. The term normally covers dispute resolution schemes, not regulatory schemes… In our view, the FWO could more strongly support the enforcement and litigation objectives (rather than the mediation objectives) of the Act.” In a nutshell: “We are of the view, given the scale and entrenched nature of the problem, that there needs to be a much stronger enforcement response than has been evident to date.”