Every day, our Workplace Advice and Support team receives numerous requests for support with underpayment claims. In 2017 alone, we recovered $1.2 million in underpayments for our members.
Wage theft takes many forms including unpaid penalty rates, sick leave, annual leave or superannuation. The issue also covers when employees are employed as contractors simply to avoid paying entitlements.
In our experience, some members have been intimidated out of pursuing these claims, while others are deterred by the long and arduous recovery process.
When a member calls with a claim, we take care of the process, which can seem complex at first. This includes calculating on size of the underpayment, and sending letters of demand to the employer. We then file the claim and evidence required in the court before serving the claim to the employer. Members may be successful in getting an order made, however the various stages of the court process mean it could be over a year before a final order for repayment of wages is made.
As it stands, small claims of up to $20,000 can be made by current and former employees in the Small Claims Division of the Federal Circuit Court or the Magistrate’s Court. If member successfully gets an order made, enforcing and receiving payment on this order is another burden to bear. We then help our members seek further assistance from the courts to have the order enforced.
While many employees may know their rights and entitlements, it is time for the next step in enforcing these rights.
If the Labor Government win this Federal election, they will create a “small claims jurisdiction” to make it easier to recover lost wages up to $100,000.
Right now, claims greater than $20,000 need to be made to either the Federal or Federal Circuit Courts. Many of the claims we have handled exceed that amount, so a simpler and more accessible recovery process is a welcome pre-election promise from the Opposition.
Set to “sit alongside” the Fair Work Commission, the jurisdiction will also be available to employees in remote and regional areas via video conferencing.
“The new jurisdiction will be designed so that most claims can be resolved in a single day. It will also be a one-stop shop – able to mediate claims, but also able to make and enforce orders for repayment of wages,” said Brendan O’Connor in an ALP media release.
The term “wage theft” raises eyebrows in politics as scare tactic, or political gamesmanship. However, wage theft is a scary reality for many of our members who have their wages or entitlements withheld.
We acknowledge that some incidents happen through error and many employers do the right thing and pay their workers properly. As an organisation, our goal is to stamp out dodgy employers who deliberately underpay their employees, and help employees rectify these issues.
You should be paid fairly for the hours you work and if you’re underpaid, it shouldn’t be too difficult or costly to get what you’re owed.
Professionals Australia welcomes the promise of a new jurisdiction to make the process more accessible and less formal for employees. Regardless of the election outcome, we will continue to go after unjust employers who deliberately withhold their workers’ pay.