Earlier this month the NSW Labor party announced the adoption of a radical new policy which would see businesses that exploit or underpay workers placed on a “name and shame” register, as well as being disqualified from tendering for state government contracts, and a possible 14 year prison term.
The Labor party will also move to have disputes regarding apprenticeships and vocational training come under the oversight of the Industrial Relations Commission.
The announcement comes as part of the Labor party’s new industrial relations platform, a cornerstone of which is the protection of vulnerable workers from exploitation. The new policy platform was initially launched last month, with the new hard-line stance against wage theft—which will punishable with jail terms of up to 14 years—being announced at a conference held by the NSW branch of the party.
A new requirement has also been added which will force businesses to publicly display their business registration details and minimum wage rates. Any employer or business that has been found to have breached the law will subsequently be placed onto a publicly available “name and shame” register, while also being rendered ineligible from applying for any future government contracts.
According to a statement issued by an Labor industrial relations spokesperson, Adam Searle, the new policy direction comes as a direct response to the repeated media scandals involving the underpayment of vulnerable foreign workers which have come to light over the past eighteen months.
“We hope that having to display the wages they pay their staff in public will act as a disincentive for businesses to underpay their workers,” Searle said.
“Failure to comply or providing false information will open them up to penalties.”
“Being locked out of access to doing business with the state [government] for breaching fair pay laws is not only a powerful incentive for companies to properly pay their workers, it also sends a clear signal to the market about the need to behave properly towards staff,” he said.
The leader of the NSW branch of the Labor party, Luke Foley, also voiced his support for the new policy, saying that young workers were being scammed out of “a staggering amount of wages by unscrupulous bosses”.
“And it has to stop.”
“We’ll go after that minority whose business model is based on exploitation,” Foley said.
However, the Australian Industry Group (AIG) has expressed unease about the new policy, saying that meddling in industrial relations at a state level is heading down a “dangerous path”.
The chief executive of the AIG, Innes Willox, said that the laws are unnecessary as civil penalties have already been put in place to deal with unscrupulous employers who engage in wage theft. As evidence he pointed to a bill which is already under consideration by the federal government that would see penalties for underpayment become twenty times more expensive.
Willox said that the proposal from the NSW and Queensland branch of the ALP—in particular the inclusion of jail terms for employers—was cruel and significantly lacking in fairness and balanced consideration.
“The last thing that is needed is for the retrograde, anti-business proposals of the union movement to be adopted by mainstream political parties,” Willox said.
“Legislative changes need to be in the national interest, not just in the union movement’s narrow interests.”
The CEO of Absolute Immigration, Jamie Lingham, voiced his support for the ALP’s new policy, saying it will help to ensure that unscrupulous employers are punished for their exploitative actions.
“There is a significant amount of exploitation of foreign national workers in Australia, and we are all for tougher penalties for the companies who engage in these practices,” Lingham said.
“We believe that the penalties should also be extended to recruitment companies and the education and migration agents that are involved with this exploitation.”
“Absolute Immigration applauds any move to bring to light companies and individuals who are giving the Australian immigration program a bad name,” he said.
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