What you need to know about wage theft

What is wage theft?

Wage theft is when a boss doesn’t pay you your correct wages (or does not pay you at all), does not adhere to an applicable modern award, or does not pay your other entitlements correctly.

Wage theft can significantly affect your quality of life by denying you the what you are owed for the time you have worked.

Wage theft doesn’t just affect people who have not been paid at all. It also affects people who have been paid short a few dollars an hour, people not getting the right rates for weekend work or overtime, and people who are denied access to their leave.

Not getting a few dollars less an hour might not seem like much, but it adds up to a lot over months and years.

Wage theft also has a ripple effect. If people you are underpaid, you may not be able to meet your basic needs, or those of your children and family. So it is an important social-justice issue.

If you think you may have been subject to wage theft, big or small, contact your AWU delegate. Otherwise, or join the union!

How can I be cheated?

There are many ways an employer can rip you off. Some of the main ones include:

  • Not paying you penalty rates or shift allowances for working weekends or other hours outside your normal workdays or hours. All workers, including casuals and apprentices, are entitled to penalty rates if they work outside specific days or hours.
  • Not paying you properly or at all for overtime, or not giving you your rostered days off or days off in lieu. All workers, including casuals and apprentices, should be paid more if they work longer than normal daily hours.
  • Unpaid breaks. All those rest breaks you don’t get can really add up. You should be paid overtime or get proper time off in lieu if you miss your breaks.
  • Not being paid super. You should receive 10% of your earnings in your superannuation account at least quarterly. This money is on top of your other pay. Check your super regularly and make sure payments are coming in, and if you have multiple super accounts, track them down and consolidate them.
  • Not paying you for leave: All full-time workers and some part-time workers are entitled to paid personal, annual or long-service leave. And casuals should be getting more pay because generally they don’t get paid leave.
  • Not receiving proper allowances. You may be entitled a tool allowance. There are also allowances for meals, managers, travel and special clothing.

That’s not all:

Wage theft can also include:

  • The compulsory use of employer-provided staff accommodation to claw back wages;
  • Withholding of wages on the basis that it will put your visa status at risk;
  • Not paying for trial or training periods;
  • Misclassifying workers as independent contractors;
  • Deliberate employee misclassification;
  • Not paying appropriately for higher duties;
  • Failing to meet basic worker entitlements in family-run businesses;
  • “Phoenixing”, where a firm goes into administration or liquidation to avoid having to pay your entitlements, then re-emerges under a different legal structure but with the same or related people in control;
  • Inappropriate deductions from your wages such as inflated rent or transport costs;
  • Charging you for personal protective gear;
  • Paying “all-inclusive” flat hourly or daily rates of pay without regard to specific entitlements
  • Failing to deduct or remit taxation amounts;
  • Requiring you to pay an “employment bond”;
  • Compulsory medicals and drug testing at nominated medical centres with inflated medical fees; and
  • Failing to pay for “on call” periods.

 If any of these apply to you, contact your AWU delegate. Otherwise, or join the union!

How else do I know if I am being ripped off?

Common warning signs of wage theft can include:

  • Being paid a flat hourly rate, regardless of the times, total hours or which days of the week you work.
  • Being covered by independent-contractor agreements.
  • Incorrect or dodgy payslips.
  • Employers reducing the hours recorded on time sheets
  • Being paid cash in hand.
  • If you are working without a contract of employment or letter of offer, or perhaps in a job you found on Gumtree, Facebook, or some other social media site.

If you think you are being underpaid, start recording the hours you work each week straight away – in a phone, or a notebook.

It is also important that you know what your minimum rate of pay should be, especially when working overtime or on weekends.

And don’t just rely on your boss’s word; check for yourself.

Employers know the chances of being caught out for wage theft are low because many workers are not in a union, so can’t easily challenge breaches of workplace laws.

Many workers are also in a weak position because they may be casual or temporary visa workers, on labour-hire or contracts, and will accept a wage that is under the legal minimums for their industry.

Whatever the case, if you think you have been subject to wage theft, big or small, contact your AWU delegate. Otherwise, join the union!

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