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QLD introduces new measures to protect against wage theft

14 October 2020

Queensland has joined Victoria and Western Australia by introducing new measures to protect against wage theft by recalcitrant employers. 

The Criminal Code and other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020 was passed into law in September. The new law amends the definition of ‘stealing’ to capture deliberate, intentional behaviour leading to under or non-payment of entitlements as a criminal offence.

The compliance and enforcement of the relevant wage theft offences fall within the responsibility of the Queensland Police Service. A person, an inspector or a union representative can refer allegations of wage theft to the police for investigation.

Where an employer has been found to be deliberately withholding wages, entitlements such as leave and penalty rates, or not making required superannuation contributions on an employee’s behalf an employer could face a maximum jail term of 14 years.

Critically however, underpayments brought on by an honest mistake or delay cannot attract criminal penalties. To successfully charge an employer with stealing, the employer must be shown to have intentionally withheld an employee’s entitlements. Therefore, employers are encouraged to safeguard themselves and conduct regular reviews to ensure their wages arrangements are compliant and that employees are being paid correctly under the relevant Modern Award or enterprise agreement. Applying relevant allowances, overtime, penalty rates and other award entitlements appropriately.

Employers who are operating under ‘over-award’ wages payments that are devised in order to include particular award components are reminded that MEA recommends that these are captured in a written employment contract. MEA has template employment contracts that you can utilise and have reviewed as part of your membership.

MEA also reminds members that each June the Fair Work Commission makes a wage determination which also includes changes to allowances.

In the first week of November MEA will release new wages summaries in accordance with the Commission’ 1.75% increase which was delayed for Group 3 awards to have effect from the first full pay period on or after 1 November for the 2020/2021 year.

If you have questions or would like to discuss the issue further, please contact the MEA Workplace Relations Team on 1300 889 198.

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