If the Labor government is re-elected at the November election cycle, Victoria employers could soon be thrown in jail for wage theft. Daniel Andrews, premier of the Labor party, said in a speech to members of the party at the Labor state conference that wage theft could land you in prison with a hefty fine. "Whether you’re a convenience store chain or a celebrity chef, if you deliberately and dishonestly underpay your workers, if you deny or deprive them of what is rightfully theirs, you will face jail," Andrews said.
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The new penalties Andrews suggested included a jail term of 10 years and businesses could be fined up to $950,000 if caught engaging in wage theft. Andrews also announced the legal process for workers who were ripped-off by their employers would be expedited, court fees reduced, and cases will be heard within 30 days. The issue of wage theft has been brought to the spotlight with help from unions who stepped up to campaign on the issue.
Victoria union secretary Jess Walsh said the state's infamous cafe culture was made into a success at the expense of workers who were "having their wages stolen every day." Walsh said, "They’re putting employers on notice that they won’t be silent anymore. We’ve seen that when workers speak out and name and shame venues, other employers take notice and change their behavior too."
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"Making wage theft a crime is a game changer for young hospo workers," Walsh continued. "The choice will be clear – pay the legal minimum award, or face jail time. Employers won’t be able to just ignore or intimidate their staff when they speak out, because the stakes will be a whole lot higher." One bartender named James Lea said the announcement is long overdue. "Everyone I know who works in hospitality has had wages stolen from them," Lea said.
Andrews also lobbied for harsher penalties for employers found liable for deaths in the workplace. "That doesn’t just mean thousands of dollars in fines, that means millions and it’ll mean jail time – up to 20 years," Andrews said. Over the last decade, there have been 234 workplace deaths and new legislation could mean employers found negligent in the death of a worker could face fines of up to $16 million and up to 20 years in jail.
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