Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Wage Theft Bill 2020

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (18:22):I rise to speak briefly to the government’s Wage Theft Bill 2020. This is a momentous bill, the first of its kind in Australia, and it complements the government’s 2018 election commitment. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has already publicly stated that it supports this legislation. We try to take a common sense approach to decision-making, and what is more common sense than ensuring that people are fairly paid for the work that they actually do. Importantly, these proposed penalties cannot be imposed retrospectively. The government’s wage theft bill proposes penalties of up to 10 years jail for employers who deliberately withhold wages or falsify and fail to keep payment records. There have been many cases in Victoria where employers have engaged in wage theft, and I suspect that these laws will go some way to preventing such large-scale instances of wage theft in the future. At the core of this legislation is the establishment of the Victorian Wage Inspectorate. This new statutory body will have strong powers, including rights to enter premises, to obtain information, to seize evidence and to apply for and execute search warrants. Importantly, no business or employer will be above the powers of the inspectorate, including the Crown. While Ms Maxwell and I gladly support this legislation, there were some questions that we put to the government about how the legislation will operate. I am mindful about additional reporting obligations being placed on small businesses, particularly in rural and regional Victoria. The Attorney-General’s office has assured me that the Victorian Wage Inspectorate will be the peak body which takes on the additional administrative responsibilities imposed by the legislation. I truly believe that most small business owners are honest and ethical—that they are people who want to do the right thing, treat their employees fairly and pay them correctly. It is my belief that this legislation will hopefully target larger companies who are deliberately underpaying workers in order to beef up dividends for shareholders. I agree with the sentiments from my colleagues Mr Gepp and also Mr Barton in saying that it is very rare that you see a CEO or any higher management getting their wages wrong, isn’t it? It always tends to be the juniors and the casuals. There are of course additional questions about how the newly established Wage Inspectorate Victoria will interact with federal agencies, including the Australian Taxation Office. The government states that the bill provides for information for sharing with other states and federal bodies. Whether or not the wage inspectorate actually has to share information with other agencies would be dependent on individual circumstances and determined on a case-by-case basis. I have also expressed interest in seeing modelling about the staffing and resources required to enable Wage Inspectorate Victoria to be fully operational. I am mindful that for nearly all of the bills we pass in this chamber there is additional work for our public service and additional resourcing is required. As with all government departments Wage Inspectorate Victoria should operate as efficiently as possible. This inspectorate should not take the form of another anti-business government body, and I have confidence that it will not. However, despite all the questions and concerns that the stakeholders have put to me the need for this legislation far outweighs any potential shortcomings within the legislation. Many people have written to me sharing terrible stories of wage theft, many of which we have heard here tonight. Every single one of them substantiates the argument for these laws, and I am confident that the full weight of this legislation will be employed beyond 1 July 2021 in order to prevent these cases of wage theft being repeated. Finally, in 2020 it is simply unacceptable to see large companies purposely underpay workers. Without tougher penalties for wage theft I worry that the deliberate withholding or underpayment of workers will become increasingly normalised, resulting in rising inequality. I therefore welcome the passage of this legislation and commend this bill to the house.


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