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Employers who engage in wage theft now face jail terms of up to 10 years, or 14 years when fraud is involved, after the passage of legislation in Queensland’s Parliament today.

Employees under federal and state laws will also have access to a “simple, quick and low-cost” recovery process for underpayments according to the Palaszczuk Government.

Te legislation’s amendments to the criminal code “reflect the seriousness of wage theft and signal Parliament’s intention to provide a deterrent to those employers who deliberately underpay and take advantage of their workers” says Queensland’s Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace.

She continued that the legislation would also provide an “accessible small claims process for wage recovery matters for all Queensland workers”.

She said the report of the inquiry into the legislation “found that wage theft is endemic across Queensland, affecting 437,000 workers and costing them approximately $1.22 billion in wages and $1.12 billion in unpaid superannuation each year”.

The report also “highlighted the bleak situation facing underpaid workers who must attempt to navigate the legal system to recover their wages, with approximately half of affected workers opting not to even pursue a claim”.

The Queensland Council of Unions renewed its call for “detailed public guidelines” that set out the criteria for police to investigate an alleged wage theft offence.

It also wants a clear picture of the “gateway” or public interest test for a wage theft prosecution.

The guidelines would also set out how the police might deal with wage theft complaints and the types of matters considered to be wage theft.

QCU deputy secretary secretary Jacqueline King said the Queensland wage theft legislation differs from that of Victoria in that the southern state has an industrial inspectorate to investigate matters, whereas the sunshine state will be relying on police to investigate and for police prosecutors to launch prosecutions.

She expects the Queensland Police Service would draft such guidelines with assistance from the State’s Office of Industrial Relations.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s wage theft legislation takes effect in the middle of next year (see Related Article).