Under the Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Bill 2020, the maximum penalty for stealing by an employer will be 10 years’ imprisonment.
The bill amends the Queensland Criminal Code definition of stealing to make it an offence against an employer who intentionally fails to make payment of wages or entitlements to employees.
The new laws were born out of an inquiry from the Queensland Parliament’s Education, Employment and Small Business Committee, which investigated the prevalence and impact of wage theft on Queensland workers.
The committee’s final report to that inquiry in late 2018 found that wage theft affected 437,000 Queensland workers and with an estimated cost of $1.22 billion in wages and $1.12 billion in unpaid superannuation annually.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said that it’s the same as the current maximum penalty for “stealing as a clerk or servant”.
Ms Grace said she hopes the new laws will make it easier and quicker for employees to recoup unpaid wages.
“These new laws recognise that the current framework is not doing the job — something needs to change to stop rampant wage theft,” she said.
“Stronger penalty and deterrence measures are needed for those who commit wage theft, particularly where it is deliberate and systematic and part of an employer’s business model.”
Ms Grace said the inquiry heard from workers and employers who agreed that more needed to be done to address this issue.
“Last week, I met with a group of hospitality workers who have experienced wage theft and hear their personal stories,” Ms Grace said.
“Like all workers, the bare minimum these workers are asking for is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, to get what is legally owed to them.
“But unfortunately for them, that has not been the reality. These laws will change this.”