Queensland Introduces Bill to Criminalise Wage Theft

Tuesday 21 July 2020 @ 12.27 p.m. | Crime | Industrial Law

On 15 July 2020, the Minister for Industrial Relations Grace Grace introduced the Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020 (QLD) (“the Bill”) to the Queensland Legislative Assembly. The Bill was referred to the Education, Employment and Small Business Committee (“the Committee”) for consideration on the same day. The report from the Committee is due to be released on 28 August 2020.

The Bill aims to implement two recommendations made in a past report by the Committee, relating to the recovery process of wages for workers and the criminalisation of wage theft. The report titled ‘A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work? Exposing the trust cost of wage theft in Queensland’ (“the 2018 Report”) was tabled in parliament on 16 November 2018.

The 2018 Report

On 17 May 2018, the parliament passed a motion for the Committee to conduct an inquiry into wage theft in Queensland. In investigating this matter, the Committee was to consider a number of factors, including:

  • The incidence and different forms of wage theft
  • The impacts of wage theft on workers and the economy
  • The reason for its occurrence and its prevalence in particular industries
  • The effectiveness of the current legislation, and any amendments and improvements that should be made

In conducting its inquiry, the Committee found that wage theft resulted in significant costs to Queensland workers, families, businesses, and the economy. The Committee estimates that over 437,000 workers were not receiving their full wages, totalling a $1.22 billion loss annually. In addition to loss of income, the 2018 Report also notes that wage theft can affect superannuation, with incidences of underpayment or non-payment of superannuation. The economy has also been found to be affected as consumer spending and federal tax revenue has shown annual reductions as a result of wage theft.

The 2018 Report also noted that affected workers were poorly informed on their avenues to reclaim wages, and that these processes were difficult and lacking in support by the federal regulator, the Fair Work Ombudsman. The Committee made a total of 17 recommendations in its final report. Of these recommendations, 11 were to be actioned by the Federal Government, with 6 to be actioned by the Queensland Government.

On 15 February 2019, the Queensland Government’s response to the inquiry report was tabled, accepting all 17 recommendations made by the Committee.

The Bill

Part 2 of the Bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD) (“the Criminal Code”) in order to criminalise wage theft. Clause 4 of the Bill proposes to add that failure to pay an employee in relation to the performance of work completed to the definition of stealing under section 391 of the Criminal Code. The broad wording of the amendment is intended to capture a broad range of payments and entitlements, including:

  • Unpaid or underpayment of hours, penalty rates, and superannuation
  • Unreasonable deductions
  • Withheld entitlements

The Bill also seeks to introduce a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment for stealing by an employer.

Part 3 of the Bill seeks to amend the Industrial Relations Act 2016 (QLD) (“the IR Act”) in order to give the Industrial Magistrates Court (“the Court”) jurisdiction to be an eligible court under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“the Fair Work Act”). This amendment would allow workers to access small claims procedures under the Fair Work Act at the Court in order to simplify the wage recovery process. This Part also introduces new conciliation procedures for unpaid amounts for state workers, which fall outside of the Fair Work Act.

Submissions to the Committee inquiry into the Bill are currently being accepted. Further details on submissions and the progress of the inquiry can be found on the Queensland Parliament website.

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Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020 (QLD) and additional materials available from TimeBase's LawOne Service

Report No. 9, 56th Parliament - Inquiry into wage theft in Queensland (Queensland Parliament)

Wage theft information for workers (Queensland Government Office of Industrial Relations, 24 September 2019)

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