- The Guardian
- Issue #2035
The Australian labour movement is on the precipice of a major win for workers’ rights in the form of a criminal case brought against a Victorian restaurateur for wage theft.
The Wage Inspectorate Victoria has filed ninety-four criminal charges in the Magistrates’ Court against the Macedon Lounge and its owner Gaurav Setia for allegedly failing to pay more than $7000 owed to four staff members over five months.
In the first case of wage theft being treated as a crime in Australia, Setia is facing upwards of ten years in jail and corporate fines in excess of $1 million.
These laws – introduced by the Victorian government in 2020 – didn’t come into effect until June last year can punish employers if a company is found to be deliberately underpaying its staff.
According to the Inspectorate, the Macedon Lounge and its sole officer, owner Setia, breached these new laws by “dishonestly underpaying staff entitlements, which include wages, superannuation and penalty rates, between July and November last year” (The Age).
While Victoria is not the only state in Australia to have laws that make wage theft a crime (Queensland), it is the first time that someone is being criminally prosecuted for the act.
Speaking on the matter, Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari stated that, “While we have rising prices, the last thing you need is the employer stealing money to grow their business. If this is being deliberately done, the court should throw the book at them.”
Commissioner of Wage Inspectorate Victoria, Robert Hortle also said that, “Victorians can be confident the Wage Inspectorate is doggedly investigating wage theft reports and intends to bring further appropriate matters before the court.”
While this is a much-needed step forward for Australian industrial relations, it is a travesty that it has taken this long. Wage theft is an ongoing occurrence everywhere, and barely a month passes by where we do not hear about some company underpaying their staff, usually large corporations.
When someone steals, they are charged with a form of theft. Yet, wage theft goes largely unpunished, with corporations paying ridiculously small fines if some form of guilt is found. These fines rarely disincentive corporations whose theft greatly impacts the livelihood of workers which is why it is such a regular occurrence.
More than this, our governments need to be more aggressive about workplace conditions and ensuring that our workplaces are safe. Too often workers are maimed or worse, killed, on worksites that have otherwise not been made safe. Again, employers will largely not find themselves criminally prosecuted and, at worst, will pay fines.
Hopefully, this criminal case will have a lot of employers think twice before robbing their workers of a living.