Employers who exploit workers may soon face criminal penalties including jail time, according to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Currently, the Attorney-General (Christian Porter) is drafting laws to deal with criminalising worker exploitation.

Porter added that criminal sanctions would send “a strong and unambiguous message to those employers who think they can get away with the exploitation of vulnerable employees”.

Recently, celebrity chefs George Calombaris and Neil Perry, have been dealing with the fallout of underpayment scandals, and Employsure is advising employers to be vigilant around how they pay their staff.

Senior employment relations adviser at Employsure, Michael Wilkinson said wage underpayment is an undeniable problem across the country, but an investigation into the causes is needed rather than heaping more regulation, compliance and punishment onto employers.

“Before we label an entire section of Australia’s economy as bosses intent on ripping off their staff, can we perhaps examine a deeper reason why employers might be struggling to pay their staff correctly?

“While systematic underpayment is a serious matter, it’s honest errors and a lack of understanding of entitlements that puts smaller hospitality businesses at risk.”

He added that the FWO will not see ignorance as an excuse, as they will pursue cases of underpayment in an attempt to reclaim any unpaid wages.

“It’s no secret that we have one of the most complex workplace relations systems in the world, and hospitality employers are especially prone to making wage errors,” he said.

“Between casuals, part-time and full-time workers, along with rising minimum wages, various penalty rates and Award entitlements, it’s a merry-go-round and they can find it hard to navigate.”

The FWO will be targeting fast-food, restaurants and cafes as part of its compliance and enforcement action over the coming 12 months.

With the attention being placed on the sector, it’s a wake-up call for employers to be confident that they are compliant with the entitlements of their staff.

For further advice & support contact EAP Assist.