Waiter Will Phillips delivers a baked beans pizza at a new restaurant called "Beans Meanz Heinz" in Melbourne May 26, 2004.
Waiter Will Phillips delivers a baked beans pizza at a new restaurant called "Beans Meanz Heinz" in Melbourne May 26, 2004. Reuters/David Gray

Victoria will introduce tougher laws that will include jail terms for employers found guilty of wage theft. Premier Daniel Andrews announced Saturday that employers who deliberately underpay or don’t pay their workers could face up to 10 years in jail.

The Andrews Government will introduce new laws that will sentence unscrupulous employers with jail terms. Under the proposal, employers found to have deliberately withhold wages, superannuation or other employee entitlements, falsify employment records, or fail to keep employment records will face fines of up to $190,284 for individuals and $952,420 for companies. They will also face up to 10 years’ jail.

It will also make the filing by employees faster, cheaper and faster so they could get their money owed to them without much fuss. Court filing fees of up to $50,000 will be lowered, and the claims will be heard within 30 days, with the court processes simplified.

The Labor Government will also establish the Victorian Wage Inspectorate, which will investigate and prosecute wage theft offences. There will be an automatic enforcement model that puts the onus on the employers to show that they comply with the law.

“Every worker has the right to get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work — the simple fact is underpaying workers if theft and it’s time it’s treated like that in our laws,” Andrews said.

Workplace manslaughter

Apart from wage theft, the government will also target deaths in the workplace. Employers whose negligence leads to the death of an employee may face up to 20 years in jail.

The government will introduce a new criminal offence of workplace manslaughter in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. The proposed law sends a strong message for employers and includes tough consequences to force employers to take workplace safety seriously and not rely on money to avoid accountability.

“It couldn’t be more simple: No one should die at work. These laws will help make sure that every Victorian makes it home to their loved ones,” Andrews said. “Families who have lost a loved one at work deserve justice — and that means jail, not a slap on the wrist.”