Sam McGrath says he spent years battling in the courts for wages owed under a sham contracting agreement. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Sam McGrath says he spent years battling in the courts for wages owed under a sham contracting agreement. Picture: Jamie Hanson

Plan to jail bosses over staff wage theft

Workers have told a public hearing into draft laws to criminalise wage theft of spending years fighting to recover entitlements and having their pay docked to cover company expenses.

The employees appeared before a public hearing today in State Parliament debating a draft bill to expand laws covering stealing to include employers who fail to pay staff what they are owed.

It proposes a maximum 10-year prison sentence for bosses convicted of stealing from their staff, bringing the penalties into line with those for employees caught stealing from their bosses.

The proposed laws come after a 2018 parliamentary inquiry found wage theft was endemic across the state, costing 437,000 workers about $1.22 billion in wages a year.

It heard accounts wage theft had become a business model for some employers, who frustrate attempts by workers' to recover entitlements.

Sunshine Coast boilermaker Samuel McGrath told the hearing today he spent years battling in the courts for wages owed under a sham contracting agreement only to emerge empty handed.

He was hired in 2016 making horse floats by now-wound up Deception Bay-based JBM Trailers and Fabrications.

Mr McGrath said he would be paid $25 an hour, but weeks later was told he would be paid per horse float, equating to about $10.90 an hour.

No timesheets or pay slips were ever provided, according to a submission to Parliament.

Mr McGrath told today's hearing that he contacted the Fair Work Commission after resigning and took legal action, with the Federal Circuit Court in 2017 ordering he be paid $8305 in entitlements.

He was forced to take further action when the order was ignored, but that stalled after the business went into administration and the owner declared bankruptcy.

He said it was a "complicated and time consuming process..with no prospect of success."

"…four years since last contacting Fair Work and I'm now back to where I started," he said.

Former Mantle Group Hospitality employee Declan Langlands, who worked at the company's Pig'N'Whistle Riverside venue in 2019, also told the hearing of having to use his personal debit card to pay for the cost of customers walking out without paying their bills.

The pay docking allegations were first revealed by The Courier-Mail in November, with Mantle Group then saying the deductions should not have occurred and workers would be refunded.

 

Declan Langlands told the hearing of having to use his personal debit card to pay for the cost of customers walking out without paying their bills. Photo Steve Pohlner
Declan Langlands told the hearing of having to use his personal debit card to pay for the cost of customers walking out without paying their bills. Photo Steve Pohlner

Union backed group Young Workers Hub has argued the definition of wage theft in the draft laws was too narrow to capture cases such as pay deductions for unpaid customer bills.

Australian Industry Group's Stephen Smith today argued the proposed laws should be scrapped and said it did not agree the term "wage theft" defined underpayments.

He said it was not a good time to introduce an act with jail terms of up to 10 years in the current economic crisis and only a "small proportion" of employers were deliberately underpaying staff.

"What you are telling me that during a pandemic it's okay to steal wages, is that correct?" Maryborough MP Bruce Saunders responded.

"Would you think 437,000 people is a significant proportion of the workforce who had their wages stolen, because that's what's happened in Queensland," he continued.

Mr Smith replied: "We support very tough civil penalties, and that's what exist. We don't support criminal penalties."


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