Wage and time theft endemic – and could get worse

By   /   May 18, 2018  /   8 Comments

TDB recommends Voyager - Unlimited internet @home as fast as you can get

Workers have been cheated for 15 years. But it seems that companies are only being required to go back six years to calculate repayments. Why? 

A recent court case taken by the Labour Inspectors against the retail chain Smiths City has exposed widespread wage and time theft by employers against workers.
Smiths City admitted not paying staff for a 15-minute meeting at the beginning of the shift nor for 8 years.
When the news broke of the decision against Smiths City, the floodgates were opened. Literally, dozens of big companies and retail chains were exposed. These included household names like Briscoe’s, Rebel Sport, Pak ‘N Save, Cotton On, Farmers, Whitcoulls, The Warehouse, Noel Leeming and Harvey Norman.
Many workers found their confidence to speak to media and report the abuses.
Typically it would include meetings “before” work or cashing up after you have clocked out at the end of a shift. Often companies rostered the start and finish time to be the same on a till our counter so there was no way a changeover could happen without someone coming early or staying late – always without additional pay.
At companies where Unite represents the workers this was common before the union established itself. We put a stop to it in the fast food industry as well as the common practice of workers having to make up a till if it was down at the end of a shift. SkyCity had them for some staff before we put an end to it there as well.
We still struggle to ensure all staff get their paid and unpaid breaks because the rostering is often so tight that any absence for sickness will mean workers will be expected to “pull together as a team” and give up their breaks if needs be. The goodwill of workers not wanting to make it harder on their workmates is exploited by companies.
As the minimum wage increases towards $20 an hour the incentive on bosses to cheat workers out of their wages or time will increases.
It seems employers just can’t help themselves if there is no direct oversight from a union or outside agency.
Every time there has been an audit of industries reliant on migrant workers, for example, the overwhelming majority of employers are found to be breaching minimum legal standards.
We are still waiting for most employers, including those Unite are in,  to recalculate the annual leave they owe to comply with the Holidays Act which was put into law in 2003 – 15 years ago.
Most of these companies had a very narrow way of calculating alternative holidays and should have been much more generous. They also calculated leave in hours and did not convert into weeks in the right way. This saved them millions of dollars a year.
Workers have been cheated for 15 years. But it seems that companies are only being required to go back six years to calculate repayments. Why?
That’s the problem with the current system. If a boss gets caught cheating workers, the worst that generally happens is that they have to pay the worker back what they cheated from them.
We should introduce a penalty regime that forces the company to pay back at least three times what they stole in money or time.
That might create a real deterrent.
Want to support this work? Donate today
Follow us on Twitter & Facebook

About the author

Mike Treen

National Director of Unite Union


  1. savenz says:

    What is the justification of using only 6 years to repay! Disgusting.

    Theft is theft. There should be heavy penalties especially for large companies employing a lot of workers and it should be 5x what they stole.

  2. Darth smith says:

    Charge them with theft as that is exactly what it is

  3. Mjolnir says:

    If a company steals time/wages, its a minimum slap on the wrist.

    If I shoplift from my employer, i could end up in jail, community service, or home detention.

    Spot the difference.

    “We should introduce a penalty regime that forces the company to pay back at least three times what they stole in money or time”

    Nailed it.

  4. Brigid says:

    Day care centres ABC particularly.
    One manager declared to a teacher that she couldn’t pay her when there were no children at the centre. Yet the teachers are expected to arrive early and attend meetings without pay.

    • greg says:

      in case of the childcare center their transferring the business risk to the employee as well as theft its really common in the building industry where the risk is transfered to workers without any reward

  5. Cassie says:

    INDEED . And I would like to ask the Question-

    HOW/WHY ?
    IS IT ??
    – that workers (& the general Public) have simply.. fallen into line.. into ACCEPTANCE of the multiple ways
    that the basic Human Right-
    ie means to a Livelihood
    (ie ensure Survival of oneself & one’s Family)…have been undermined & under attack for decades now.


    HOW COME people just seem to
    Accept, Adjust & Cope..? To these outside ATTACKS?
    No Energy left,
    (And that’s the Aim)

  6. CLEANGREEN says:

    Capitalism was built on taking from the poor to enrich those who can steal.

    We must go back to our soft style socialism with egalitarianism.

  7. simonm says:

    Since these businesses think it’s fine to expect their workers to turn up for unpaid “voluntary” meetings, perhaps the company directors could start attending board meetings for nothing too. Like fuck they will though!