"Australia’s first criminal case over wage theft is under way, with charges
laid against the owner of a Victorian restaurant that allegedly underpaid staff
by thousands of dollars.
If found guilty, the owner of the Macedon Lounge, northwest of Melbourne, faces
a fine of more than $1 million and potentially jail time under Victoria’s Wage
The law came into effect in July 2021. The Andrews Labor government promised it
before the 2018 state election, as evidence mounted that existing civil penalty
fines were not a sufficient deterrent.
This week Unions NSW called for national action in a report on underpayment of
migrant workers. This was based on an audit of job advertisements on Chinese,
Korean, Nepalese, Punjabi and Spanish websites. It found 70% offered less than
The Albanese government also made a pre-election promise to criminalise wage
theft, as part of its Secure Australian Jobs Plan:
Wage theft rips more than $1 billion off Australian workers each year. The
Morrison government doesn’t think it’s a problem, but Labor does, and we
will make wage theft a crime at a national level.
This was left out of the omnibus amendments to the Fair Work Act passed last
week. It’s unclear whether the government will pursue this further in its first
But criminalisation may not be the best approach. Other reforms are just as
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics