Gen United

How do employers get away with wage theft?

In this blog we’ll be covering:
💸 What counts as wage theft?
💸 How do employers get away with it?
💸 What you can do about it.

Reading time

3 minutes

Published on

Wage theft is far too common in Australia and young workers are some of the most exploited. It’s finally illegal, but it will take a long time for the culture to change.

Maybe you’ve been asked to start early to set up, or stay back and lock up. But are you being paid for this time? If not, it’s wage theft. 

Do you know how much super you’re getting? You might not care now, but small amounts of super can grow into tens of thousands by the time your 67. Not paying super is wage theft. 

Do you know if you’re being paid the proper hourly rate for your job? If you’re on an award there’s a minimum rate that you should be paid. If you’re being paid under the award, it’s wage theft. 

“For every way that you can be paid in Australia, there’s a corresponding form of wage theft” 

Source: McKell Institute’s Rebecca Thistleton, on young people and wage theft – ABC RN

Employers have notoriously played dumb when accused of not paying proper wages, saying the award system is too complicated.  

But after years of workers and unions exposing bad bosses, wage theft is finally a crime in Australia (thanks to the Albanese government’s Closing Loopholes legislation). 

The most vulnerable groups to wage theft are young people and migrant workers. The regulator recouped $1 billion in unpaid wages in the last 2 years alone – much of it in industries that rely on young workers.  

Victims of wage theft are often not aware of their rights, making it easier to exploit them.  

In a ‘wage-theft culture’, it’s way too common for employers not to pay fair wages, or overtime, or superannuation or penalty rates… the list goes on.  

The compounding problem is that this is then accepted as ‘normal’ by most workers. Some workers even take pride in their ‘dedication’ to unpaid hours. This is wrong. 

If you’re aware of your rights, it’s harder to be exploited. 

What can we do to change the culture?

Unions have worked hard to expose wage theft in industries that attract young workers. If you’re not aware of your rights today, it’s harder to agitate for change.  

The generational wealth gap is already giant, and growing. There are still way too many barriers to making a living wage for those of us who want to live independently of family and start building a future.  

Rather than being rewarded for showing maturity at an early age, young workers are often exploited, and if they’re under 21, they are penalised by junior rates. 

What even is a Union?

You may never have heard of unions or if you have, you’re not quite sure what they do. Fear not, we’ve got you covered with the down low on these super helpful organizations.

Do you think this is fair?

Unionised workplaces are proven to have better agreements and pay better hourly rates than non-union workplaces. They’re also more likely to pay the same adult rate for anyone over the age of 18.  

If you think age discrimination is wrong, or if you suspect your boss not paying you properly, it’s time to get involved, talk to your union and co-workers, exercise your rights and lobby for change.

More info:

Fact sheet: Minimum wage entitlements (Australian Unions). Read more here.

The cost of wage theft (ABC RN). Read more here.

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