The National Retail Association (NRA) is disappointed that the Queensland Government today passed its “wage theft” legislation despite the concerns of business groups.
Despite serious questions as to the whether the legislation can actually be enforced under the Constitution, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and the State Director of Public Prosecutions (SDPP) will now be able to commence criminal proceedings against employers for the offences of “stealing” and “fraudulently withholding” employee entitlements, with penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
With it being unclear as to how, exactly, the QPS and SDPP will tackle the complexities of the federal industrial relations system in enforcing this legislation, NRA CEO Dominique Lamb described the new laws as “another fracture in the national industrial relations system.”
“We have always maintained that the term “wage theft” fails to recognise the complexities inherent in the current system,” said Ms Lamb. “With Victoria and now Queensland adding new layers of regulation, these laws are only adding to the problem, not solving it.”
Although touted as “wage theft” legislation, the new laws also make changes to how employees may pursue wage claims directly against their employers through the State courts.
Importantly, the legislation allows the Industrial Magistrates Court to both impose fines on employers for underpayments and prohibit the employer from being represented by a lawyer in such cases.
Speaking earlier today, Ms Lamb stated that “the NRA made written submissions during the consultation process strongly opposing any proposition that removed the right to legal representation in circumstances where penalties may be imposed, and we continue to oppose such measures.”
Late amendments by the Queensland Government also allow employees to authorise a union to access their employment records, regardless of whether or not that employee is a member of the relevant union. Under federal law, access by unions to the employment records of non-members requires authorisation from the Fair Work Commission.
“Employers are now in the position where they can comply with either the State law or the Federal law, but not both,” Ms Lamb explained. “This was the very kind of situation that we were hoping to avoid.”