“…if there is a major business in Australia who doesn’t consider itself on notice that they have to invest and improve their systems of payments, and their platforms, and their technology, and their auditing, then that system, that company would have rocks in its head… you’re on notice.”
Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General Christian Porter has warned businesses that they are on notice to ensure workplace relations compliance.
In response to a string of high-profile underpayment headlines in the media (MAdE Establishment Group (the restaurant group headed by George Calombaris), Sunglass Hut, Woolworths, Qantas, ABC, Bunnings and of late Coles and Target… just to name a few), the Federal government appears to remain committed to criminalising “wage theft”. This means the risk for companies who do not comply is far beyond the back pay bill.
Last week, the Federal government confirmed its plans to introduce legislation imposing lengthy jail terms (up to 10 years), million-dollar fines and public notices for the most serious forms of deliberate and repeated underpayments. In addition, companies may be banned from employing workers on certain visas and directors may be disqualified from holding office in cases where significant underpayments occur. The government also confirmed it is considering options to strengthen existing enforcement frameworks and laws as well as raising penalties, to capture employers who do not meet the threshold of criminal conduct but nonetheless are breaching Australian workplace laws by not paying the appropriate and correct wages.
In addition to potential legal liability, employers need to be conscious of potential reputational risks. The recent voluntary administration of MAdE Establishment Group serves as a reminder to employers that the broader reputational risk of breaching Australian workplace laws can have a lasting and detrimental impact.
Never has there been a more important time to be on top of your compliance.
Gadens’ Employment Advisory team can assist employers in ensuring they are compliant with minimum standards and all workplace laws, including by undertaking compliance reviews and audits and advising on obligations. Speak to us about a spot check today.
Siobhan Mulcahy, Partner
Emma Moran, Senior Associate
Stacey Nicolaou, Lawyer