Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has pledged to introduce jail terms for wage theft if the Labor government is re-elected in November.

Employers could face a maximum jail term of 10 years and businesses could be hit with fines up to $951,420 if they’re found guilty of withholding wages, superannuation or other employee entitlements; falsifying employment records or failing to keep employment records.

Individuals will face fines of up to $190,284.

“Whether you’re a convenience store chain or a celebrity chef, if you deliberately and dishonestly underpay your workers, if you deny or deprive them of what is rightfully theirs, you will face jail,” Andrews said at the Labor state conference on Saturday 26 May.

The legal process for employees will also be simplified for claims up to $50,000, with court fees lowered and cases to be heard within 30 days.

The Labor government has also announced the Victorian Wage Inspectorate, which will investigate and prosecute wage theft offences.

The Inspectorate is a new employment watchdog which will promote fair industrial relations practices and better education, compliance and enforcement of state-based employment laws.

Industry workers and unions are supporting the pledge, with United Voice praising the move.

“Making wage theft a crime is a game-changer for young hospo workers,” says Jess Walsh, United Voice Victorian secretary. “The choice will be clear – pay the legal minimum award or face jail time.

“Employers won’t be able to just ignore or intimidate their staff when they speak out because the stakes will be a whole lot higher.”

Andrews also announced stronger penalties for workplace deaths, with fines reaching nearly $16 million and 20 years in jail for negligent employers. WorkSafe will be responsible for prosecuting employers.

Image credit: The Guardian

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