THE union movement is targeting ‘wage theft’ following complaints, in central Victoria and elsewhere, of unpaid superannuation and entitlements.
Bendigo Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Martin said the odds were stacked against employees and unions were pushing hard to change the industrial relations rules.
“If the worker put their hand in the till and took $20 out they would face being sacked and possibly criminal charges,” Mr Martin said.
“But when an employer is stealing from the employees through wage theft and underpayments of superannuation there’s no penalty.
“At best they usually have to pay it back, but where’s the incentive if they’re not actually getting charged and fined.”
Mr Martin’s comments came as the Labor Party announced its intent to crack down on illegal phoenix activity, which ASIC defines as ‘creating a new company to continue the business of an existing company that is deliberately liquidated to avoid paying taxes, creditors and employee entitlements’.
“It has become so common, phoenixing, it’s a business model now,” Member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters said.
She said nearly 15,000 workers in her electorate had not received superannuation entitlements.
Security guard Peter Watkinson said he was one of them.
“I’ve had experiences with superannuation from multiple companies who just don’t pay,” he said.
Labor’s proposed reforms include establishing identification numbers for company directors; criminalising the exploitation of temporary overseas workers, and introducing tougher penalties for failing to pay employees their dues.
“Currently it is easier to become a company director than open a bank account, yet the government has barely raised a peep about phoenix activity,” Ms Chesters said.
The Phoenix Taskforce has conducted more than 260 audits and reviews, raised $240 million in liabilities and collected $115 million in cash from July 1 to March 31.
It has also had six successful criminal prosecution results and disqualified and banned seven individuals from acting as directors.
The taskforce was created four years ago to take action against high-risk phoenix operators.
It consists of 28 federal, state and territory government agencies including the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities & Investments Commission, Department of Jobs and Small Business, and the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Signs an operator is involved in phoenix activity differ depending on a the capacity in which a person or organisation interacts with an operator, according to the Australian Taxation Office.
For individual employees, the signs could be:
For suppliers and contractors, the signs could be:
Australian Taxation Office – can help with lost or unpaid super and phoenix companies.
Fair Work Ombudsman – can advise about minimum wages and conditions of employment.
Department of Employment – can help people claim unpaid employment benefits in the event of an employer’s liquidation or bankruptcy.
Australian Securities & Investment Commission (ASIC) – can advise whether or not you’re a creditor of a company that is placed in liquidation and making a claim against your employer.
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