Australia’s Labor Government is set to introduce legislation to close “loopholes” in workplace law, when Parliament reconvenes on Monday.
The minister responsible for the workplace, Tony Burke announced on Sunday that he would introduce a bill that would make it an offense to purposefully underpay employees.
If found guilty, the offender would face up to 10 years in prison and a A$7.8 million ($5.0 million) fine.
Penalties would not apply to employers who make honest mistakes, Burke said in a statement.
Burke said in a speech last week that in addition to criminalising “wage theft”, the bill would make it easier for casual workers to gain permanent roles, scrutinise the use of labour hire firms to undercut minimum pay rates, and introduce minimum standards for “gig economy” workers, including in food delivery and rideshare apps.
He said on Sunday in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the impact on business would be minimal, although “there are some people who will have to pay more”.
He added that businesses with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt from some provisions.
Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia, called the planned reforms “unworkable,” telling Sky News, “It’s going to add cost, complexity, make it harder to get casual work, make it harder to employ people.”