When is wage theft not theft?

According to the Australian Industry Group’s chief executive, when it is ‘emotive’.

Responding to calls for jail terms for employers found to be underpaying workers, the Ai Group chief acknowledged that underpaying wages was unacceptable, but that wasn’t what he really wanted to say. He went on to state, ‘However, 'Wage theft' is an emotive term coined by the union movement designed to tarnish all employers.’

Sorry, Mr Willox, anything said before the word ‘but’ is generally bullshit (and yes, that is a Game of Thrones reference, thank you Ned Stark). Using ‘however’ instead of ‘but’ is just a more grammatically sophisticated example of the above.

I usually find the Ai Group chief to be fairly sensible, but on this one he has got it wrong - really wrong.

Failing to make superannuation payments, paying employees under Award rates and particularly underpaying via unrecorded cash payments is theft, pure and simple. It’s damaging to the employees who deserve to be paid both their wages and entitlements fairly, it’s an unfair disadvantage to businesses doing the right thing, and it’s damaging to the wider economy.

The unions behind these calls are far from blameless as well. Abject failures to keep up with fast-changing realities of modern workplaces have made most unions all-but redundant; reduced to running politically-motivated campaigns and trying to keep things running along the behind-closed-doors practices of decades ago. Where were you when vulnerable workers were being ripped off? It's not just teachers, nurses and emergency service people who need a collective voice.

Mr Willox made these statements in today’s Herald Sun: "Running businesses is risky, complex and tough. The populist race to the bottom with the unions to describe wage underpayments by a tiny minority of businesses as 'wage theft', effectively labels all employers, large and small, as potential 'thieves'.
"It is a divisive invitation by the unions to indulge in old-fashioned class warfare rather than supporting a serious conversation about building the economy for everyone's benefit."

What a load of bollocks. The vast majority of businesses do the right thing and are in no way tarnished by calls to crack down on rogue operators and most share the outrage against the dodgy few. Anyone who doesn’t want to pay their workers appropriately, or who uses workers’ entitlements to ‘invest’ shouldn’t be in business.

The point the Ai Group was trying to make was that introducing jail terms for wage underpayment was unnecessary, as the federal Fair Work Act already contains significant penalties.

And yes, the Fair Work Act does contain significant penalties, but as we are seeing in case after case of corporate wrongdoing, having penalties exist under legislation means nothing if adequate monitoring isn’t in place and the rules fail to be enforced.

Why are we so bad at this?

Businesses and business people who do the right thing, who value their staff and often underpay themselves when things get tough to ensure their staff are paid are already paying for the bad behaviour of dodgy operators. Who is standing up for them?

Take the politicking out of this and call wage theft what it is, theft, pure and simple.

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