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The Victorian Government has passed a bill penalising the act of deliberate wage theft with up to 10 years in jail and fines of up to almost $200,000 for individuals, and $1 million for companies.

The Wage Theft Bill 2020 punishes employers who dishonestly withhold wages, superannuation or other entitlements.

In order to facilitate this, the bill also introduced the Wage Inspectorate Victoria –  a corporate body that will act to “promote, monitor and enforce compliance with this Act”.

The new Victorian Wage Inspectorate will have strong powers, including rights to enter premises to obtain information and seize evidence and to apply for and execute search warrants. The inspectorate will also target employers who falsify wage records, or dishonestly fail to keep records in a bid to hide wage underpayments.

The Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas said that the existing legal regime had failed to stop exploitation of workers and that employees shouldn’t have to complain to be paid properly.

The Minister for Workplace Safety Jill Hennessy added that “Employers who steal money and entitlements from their workers deserve to face the full force of the law, which will include substantial fines or jail time for the worst offenders”.

“This problem is systematic – that’s why our laws will apply beyond wages and include allowances, gratuities, superannuation and other accruals such as leave, as well as ensuring directors and officers are held to account.” Hennessy said.

Professional services firm PwC has estimated 13 per cent of Australian workers are underpaid a total of $1.35 billion a year.

A long list of companies have been accused of underpaying workers in recent times. These include Coles Woolworths, Target,  Qantas ,   Michael Hill, Caltex, Spotless7-ElevenTop Juice, Bunnings,  Biada , Wesfarmers, Commonwealth Bank, George CalombarisPizza Hut, Super Retail Group, Rockpool Dining Group, Hungry JacksSubway , Touchpoint Media and many others.