‘Wage Theft’ Inquiry Reads Like a Union Wish List That Penalises Majority of Businesses: CCIQ

Tuesday 20 November, 2018 | By: Olivia Van der Wagen

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) strongly opposes a series of punitive recommendations on the state’s small business sector by the state government inquiry into underpayment of salaries under the emotive title of ‘wage theft’ which threatens the majority of law abiding small businesses.

The report’s recommendations do not address the issue of complex wage settings employers have to negotiate and which remain a challenge.

CCIQ analyst, Olivia Van der Wagen said the report handed down falls short in supporting the work already undertaken by the Fair Work Commission by focusing on a ‘bad apples’ minority to scourge all employers.

“The report handed down identifies a number of areas that have already been addressed by the Fair Work Commission and of more concern the threat of criminality has the potential for a series of unintended consequences,” Ms Van der Wagen said.

CCIQ notes the recommendations proposed that remain a concern to the wider business community include:

  1. Recommendation 15 wherein it is recommended that wage theft is made a criminal offence;
  2. Recommendation 16 which recommends that an automatic termination date be legislated for ‘zombie’ agreements; and
  3. Recommendation 17 which calls for consideration of law reform to broaden the definition of worker.

Last year the Federal government introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act which, amongst others, increased penalties for the contravention of workplace laws tenfold.

Calls to legislate an automatic termination date of workplace agreements entered into prior to the Fair Work Act (also known as ‘zombie’ agreements) ignore section 225 of the Fair Work Act which already allows an employee or union, covered by an agreement, to apply to terminate it after its nominal expiry date.

The recommendation to consider law reform to broaden the definition of worker is currently being assessed by an action before the Federal Court and such recommendation should observe the findings of the court so that certainty can be achieved for both employer and employee around that very definition. 

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