House debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Constituency Statements


10:27 am

Photo of Amanda RishworthAmanda Rishworth (Kingston, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very proud to be a member of the Labor Party, a party that has stood up for working people in this country for many, many decades and particularly has stood up for the protection of wages and conditions for workers in Australia. While many in the union movement and the Labor Party have fought for better wages and conditions, it is no use if employers out there don't do the right thing and actually pay those wages and provide the conditions that workers deserve. Deliberately not paying the wages that workers are entitled to is known as wage theft. This should be criminalised. I've got to stress this. This is not an accident; this is deliberately evading and trying not to pay the money owed to workers. It is outrageous.

In 2019 PricewaterhouseCoopers found that underpayment of Australian workers' entitlements was estimated at $1.35 billion a year. This modelling was based on the Fair Work Ombudsman data that found that workers in essential sectors like retail, construction, social assistance and health care are at most at risk of wage theft. If we think about these areas, these are the workers that turned up during the pandemic. During the pandemic, when we had lockdowns around this country, these are the workers that continued to go to work, to put food on our table, to make sure that essential services continued to operate. Of course, ensuring that they get paid what they are entitled to should be a priority of government, but this government would like to put its head in the sand when it comes to wage theft.

I just want to share one quick story, the story of Cameron, who lives in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. He was a first-year electrical apprentice, a job he'd gotten with the help of a family friend. During his apprenticeship, Cameron became the victim of wage theft by his employer. In the first year of Cameron's apprenticeship, his employer refused to pay him super. He was underpaid between 50 and 60 cents per hour and never got penalty rates for overtime or Sunday work when he completed it.

With the help of his union, he was able to win the case. Actually, the court decided he should be paid the money he's owed. Unfortunately, the company is evading the court orders and refusing to pay Cameron what he is owed. We need to see government stand up in this. Labor has a plan to criminalise wage theft, and I would encourage the government to do the same.