The Turnbull Government has today introduced legislation to protect vulnerable workers and crack down on unscrupulous bosses who break the law.
The Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017 delivers on an election commitment to ensure workers are protected from exploitative and unfair practices in the workplace.
“Last year, all decent Australians would have been appalled at video footage of young 7-Eleven workers being led to an ATM and forced to hand back part of their wages in cash,” Minister Cash said.
“We’ve also been appalled at recent revelations of systematic underpayment of employees by some franchisees of well-known pizza chains.”
“While this does not represent the vast majority of Australian business owners who work hard, follow the rules, create jobs and provide the backbone of our economy, such cases have shown existing laws lack teeth and need to be strengthened.”
The Bill 2017 will help deter, catch and punish unscrupulous bosses and protect responsible employers, by:
- Making it clear employers can’t directly or indirectly request unreasonable payments from their staff. This outlaws the ‘cashbacks’ practice recently exposed at 7-Eleven.
- Increasing the penalties ten-fold for serious contraventions involving deliberate and systematic underpayment of workers (as opposed to one-off mistakes). Penalties are also being increased for those who falsify pay records. These penalties will not apply to inadvertent breaches or honest mistakes.
- Holding head office responsible for underpayments where three conditions are met:
- The head office has significant influence or control over their franchisee or subsidiary,
- The head office knew or should reasonably be expected to have known of the underpayment or related breach, and
- The head office failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the breach from occurring.
This means that those who are complicit or wilfully blind to underpayments in their network will be responsible for rectifying those underpayments.
- Strengthening the Fair Work Ombudsman’s powers, so they can more effectively investigate breaches of workplace laws and overcome the culture of fear that often prevents vulnerable workers from coming forward and giving evidence. The Turnbull Government has also already boosted the FWO’s funding by $20 million, so it can more effectively enforce the law.
Our new laws build on steps already taken by the Coalition Government to stop visa laws being abused and foreign workers being underpaid.
We’ve made it a criminal offence for employers to solicit or receive a payment in exchange for a visa sponsorship.
We now require a valid payslip as proof of lawfully paid work before a second working holiday visa can be granted to a temporary migrant worker.
We established Taskforce Cadena, a joint taskforce between Australian Border Force and Fair Work Ombudsman to target criminals organising visa fraud, illegal work and the exploitation of foreign workers.
We have established a Migrant Workers Taskforce, led by Professor Allan Fels, to target employers who exploit migrant workers.
A strong employment system requires all parties to abide by fair rules. Importantly, this legislation is targeted at those who deliberately set out to do the wrong thing. The new increased penalties and liability provisions will not impact the vast majority of employers who do the right thing, or who simply make honest mistakes.
“When someone abuses their power – whether it is union bosses intimidating small businesses or dodgy employers exploiting vulnerable workers – the Turnbull government will take action,” Minister Cash said.
“This is important for our economy and also the principle of a fair-go for all.”