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Submissions invited on wage theft criminalisation

Media Release

The Morrison Government is committed to introducing strong and effective criminal sanctions to help stamp out deliberate and systematic wage theft by Australian employers.

Work on legislation is already underway but before a draft Bill is finalised, community feedback is being sought to help inform the development of a new offence and penalty regime, which must include significant jail terms and fines for the most serious offences.

Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter, said the vast majority of employers try to do the right thing by their workers, but a strong deterrent was needed for the minority who deliberately exploit their staff.

"The Government has already taken steps to strengthen the civil penalties available under the Fair Work Act for underpayments by employers,  but clearly more needs to be done to target the most serious types of offending which we believe are worthy of criminal sanctions," Mr Porter said.

"To help us deliver these important reforms, I have today released a discussion paper that invites submissions on a range of issues, including the thresholds at which certain behaviour should be criminalised, the potential penalties and how the changes would apply to corporations.

"We are taking this consultative approach because we recognise that the industrial relations system is complex and we need to ensure that any new penalty regime is fit for purpose and avoids any unintended consequences. For example, we do not want employers who make genuine mistakes and move swiftly to rectify them to end up with a criminal record."

As well as criminal sanctions, the discussion paper examines a range of issues associated with underpayments, including civil penalties, sham contracting and the question of liability for employers where entities in their supply network flout employment laws.

A separate discussion paper was released today, examining the issue of Project Life Greenfields Agreements.  Under the Fair Work Act, enterprise agreements can only apply for a maximum of four years after approval.

While the majority of new projects are finalised within that timeframe, larger projects can take longer and require cost certainty to enable them to be completed on time and on budget.

The question the Government is now seeking feedback on is whether agreements could be extended to cover the full-life of a project, instead of the current four-year maximum term.

The Government is also asking what additional safeguards could be built into those agreements to ensure workers are not disadvantaged as the result of any changes.

"The consultation process on both of our discussion papers is now open to all interested stakeholders, including unions and employer groups, and I urge everyone to have their say so that we can build a stronger industrial relations system that supports workers, employers and our economy," Mr Porter said.

The papers scan be viewed on the Attorney-General's website.

Submissions close on October 25 for the wage theft paper and November 1 for the second paper.