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MEDIA RELEASE   The stiffest wage theft sentences in the country have been passed in Victoria, a critical step in the fight against wage theft – laws that United Workers Union members have been fighting many years for. United Workers Union congratulates Premier Daniel Andrews for listening to working people and enacting this crucial reform in fighting the epidemic of wage theft.

Wage thieves in Victoria now face up to 10 years jail.

The laws stand up for workers who are experiencing widespread and systemic wage theft across a diverse range of industries including food and beverage production, early childhood education, security, horticulture, supermarket supply chains, hospitality and cleaning.

Susie Allison, United Workers Union Victorian spokesperson says, “United Workers Union members have led the fight against wage theft and the need for tougher laws. We congratulate the Victorian Government for enacting this critical reform. Following scandal after scandal they have taken this decisive action to say to wage thieves – pay your workers properly or face time in jail.

“Wage theft is more than a cost to the economy, it is about a fundamental threat to Australia’s social contract, and it is a driver of social inequality. The Victorian laws take action on this, holding those who are responsible to account.

“We must restore the notion of a ‘fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’. United Workers Union members will continue to fight to ensure all workers across the country have strong and effective wage theft laws that deliver outcomes. And as we restart industries like hospitality in Victoria, the wage theft laws give us opportunity to reshape industries to ensure fair and legal wages.”

Digital union Hospo Voice, the hospitality arm of the United Workers Union, played a critical role campaigning for the Victorian laws. Hospo Voice held dozens of noisy protests outside disgraced venues across Melbourne and held wage thieves in the industry to account, including George Calombaris’s Made Establishment, the Rockpool Dining Group, Dinner by Heston, and the LaLa Bar Group.

Julien Gibson, chef and Hospo Voice member says, “I have worked as a chef for 15 years and at almost every job, I’ve had my wages stolen. The emotional toll of this kind of abuse is huge. These bosses deliberately undermine your sense of self-worth so they can pay you less. For me it led to depression and I had to get therapy.

“It was very hard to stand up to these bosses. Eventually I joined my union. Knowing I had the support of other workers gave me strength and the knowledge I needed on how to fight back. And I won back over $10,000 in stolen wages.

“From today all workers will know they have the full force of the law behind them, and that will be an absolute game-changer. This is an enormous victory for Hospo Voice members and supporters – we fought so damn hard for this. I am so proud of every one of us who joined this fight. We hit the streets. We yelled our lungs out. And step by step we built a powerful union of hospitality workers who will stop at nothing to make sure hospo workers are paid fairly and treated with respect.

“It’s great to see that once again Victoria is leading the way. Hospo Voice members congratulate the Premier on following through on this important commitment he made to Victorian workers.”

Recent Victorian wage theft stories

Bendigo security guards fight wage theft for four and a half years to finally win $52,000 last week

A group of Bendigo security guards won back their stolen wages last week, following a four and a half year fight with their employer MSS who employs security guards at the Thales site in Bendigo (Thales is a French defence contractor).

MSS was paying the guards at the site as Level 1– the lowest level in the contract security industry. This is despite the fact that the guards needing the highest levels of security clearance. Five security guards at the site have been in an ongoing dispute from January 2016 to June 2020 with MSS about the misclassification and associated underpayment.

The dispute dragged on for years, due to continuous delays by the employer. The matter was escalated to the Fair Work Commission in 2019. In December 2019, the Commission handed down a decision that found the guards should have been classified as Level 3 since they began their employment with MSS. MSS appealed this decision to the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission, despite having no real grounds for an appeal. In March 2020, the Full Bench dismissed MSS’s appeal.

Despite the decision MSS still refused to back-pay the workers. United Workers Union had to file a proceeding in the Federal Circuit Court to recover the back-pay. Recently, MSS finally caved in and agreed to back-pay the five members $52,075.33 just last week.

Susie Allison says, “A system where it takes four and a half years to win what has been taken from you is no system at all. It took these workers two Fair Work Commission hearings, a Federal Circuit Court hearing and countless emails just to get their minimum entitlements.

“Cases like these highlight the need for wage theft legislation. At the end of the day the company was not punished and not held accountable for their behaviour.”

Security guard Peter Watkinson says, “The company stalled because there is no penalty and no incentive to settle. We had many delays thrown at us to even get to mediation. With the new laws finally individuals will be held to account for taking from workers.”

Della Rosa pizza – drawn-out court case to fight alleged million dollar wage theft

United Workers Union is still pursuing Melbourne pizza manufacturer Della Rosa for chronic underpayments in the vicinity of one million dollars and for compensation for breaching the workplace rights of predominately migrant workers. The case alleges that 21 former workers were paid a flat rate by Della Rosa and denied overtime payments, shift loading, and public holiday rates. The pizzas made by these workers are supplied to Coles, Woolworths and IGA stores across Australia.

After initially being raised with the company a number of years ago, the workers are still battling through the drawn-out legal proceedings. It takes years under the current system to fight for stolen wages, the new laws will provide workers with a quicker way to receive justice.

Danial Jalil – farm worker

Danial is a farm worker who came to Australia and worked in Robinvale, working 10 hour days for about $40 a day. Danial was forced to live in the contractor’s accommodation and pay them to transport him to work. Danial and his friends had their belongings stolen from their accommodation. The contractor helped them get their belongings back, including a passport, but then had to pay for it to be returned. Danial finally found work in a union site, joined the union and helped his work colleagues. Danial is now a union organiser in the farms team helping people just like him. He has spoken many times about wage theft and the terrible exploitation suffered by farm workers.