The government needs to recognise that wage theft is a gendered issue

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. Today: wage theft.

It’s not a stretch to say that gender inequality persists in the workplace, and it isn’t changing any time soon. On top of the gender pay gap (which exists across all occupations and industries), women are over-represented in part-time and casual work, often due to the unpaid caring roles they are expected to undertake.

The underpayment of wages is just another compounding factor that must be seen as a gendered issue that intersects with other forms of inequality.

The sheer extent of non-compliance by employers tells us there are profound problems with the enforcement of wage laws and entitlements across all areas of work in Australia, problems that disproportionately impact women — in particular, young and/or migrant women who often rely on minimum wage, modern award systems and the gig economy.

We need lawmakers, politicians, businesses and regulators to see wage theft as a gendered issue which requires an intersectional strategy.

We need policy and legislation to break down the systemic barriers that create “feminised” sectors and that fail to address gender inequality in the workplace. We also need better wage transparency and stronger legal protections for workers to properly hold businesses to account.

Michelle Phillips is the CEO of the YWCA.

A wage theft register could help government draw a line in the sand

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. This week: wage theft.

Aside from those measures regularly canvassed — such as significant penalties and fines — perhaps a register could be created that enabled Commonwealth, state and local governments to identify businesses found to have committed wage theft and then exclude them from their procurement processes and grant payment schemes for a defined period of time.

David Grant is the president of the Australian Business Deans Council.

To stop wage theft, the government needs to put its money where its mouth is

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. This week: wage theft.

How best to increase employer compliance with minimum pay standards is a complex issue and therefore it is difficult to nominate a single change to achieve it.

Having said that, I would most like to see the Australian government prioritise solving the problem by ensuring that adequate resources are applied to employment law enforcement.

This does not solely mean increasing the Fair Work Ombudsman’s funding, although a significant increase would assist as the Ombudsman currently receives less government funding than 10 years ago.

It also means enabling others to contribute to ensuring employer compliance, such as unions, community centres and migrant workers themselves.

Unions, who already recover millions of dollars on behalf of underpaid workers despite restrictive rights to inspect pay records, are not part of the federal government’s plan to address the problem.

Community legal centres and migrant representative groups are important conduits to legal recourse for vulnerable migrant workers but must battle just to raise funds to continue their own operation.

And migrant workers themselves could be a better utilised resource if deportation was less of a risk — the operations of the Ombudsman and Border Force must be separated by a clear operational firewall rather than current vague undertakings.

Dr. Stephen Clibborn is senior lecturer at University of Sydney Business School and Co-Director of the Sydney Employment Relations Research Group.

Want to stop wage theft? Simplify the system

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. This week: wage theft.

We would change the system to make it easier to understand and easier to enforce — similar to the New Zealand system.

The barriers to change are those who make money from complexity. Also wage theft is when it is done on purpose.

The reality of the Australian system is that it is almost impossible to be completely compliant no matter how good your resources and your system. This is shown by the fact that Maurice Blackburn the law firm for unions could not get it right.

Change the rules and make them easy.

Peter Strong is the CEO of the Council of Small Business of Australia.

Tougher penalties are needed to punish wage thieves

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. This week: wage theft.

It’s no coincidence that the emergence of the wage theft crisis has coincided with conservative governments blocking unions from conducting spot checks and inspecting pay records in workplaces, while at the same time attacking the rights of working people to have fast and effective recourse when employers break the law.

In order to address this crisis we need to put in place tougher penalties for employers who steal wages, change the system so that working people can quickly and cheaply claim back any money which has been stolen and are secure to raise concerns about potential wage theft without fearing for their jobs.

We also need to allow unions to conduct spot checks where they can inspect pay records and hold employers directly accountable for paying their staff correctly.

The discussion paper circulated by the Morrison government does not commit to any of these important reforms.

Sally McManus is the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Additional funding is desperately needed in the fight against wage theft

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. This week: wage theft.

There are many useful improvements to existing legal processes that could be made to bring down the number of businesses underpaying their staff — and indeed some of them are under consideration by the Morrison government.

Awards have recently been simplified by the Fair Work Commission, and more could be done in that area too, although without simply being a pretext to remove entitlements.

But the most urgent need is for greater funding, both to the Fair Work Ombudsman, to help it cope with the huge task of investigating non-compliance by small and large businesses alike, and to the many community-based legal services which advise and support vulnerable workers.

That additional funding should not have to wait on consultations or legislative proposals — it’s needed now.

Andrew Stewart is the author of Stewart’s Guide to Employment Law, and is the John Bray Professor of Law at the University of Adelaide.

Renewable investment is being crippled by a failing regulatory structure

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. Today: climate change.

Renewable investment is being crippled by a failing regulatory structure across the electricity system.

You cannot start serious decarbonisation, or the export of renewable power, if you can’t get renewable energy to the market due to a lack of transmission.

Transmission investment must be accelerated and occur such that new generation can be connected to grid and existing generation can be dispatched without being constrained by capacity or strength.

Requiring national planning to occur based on weak and unsustainable government climate policies that ignore the necessary and obvious electrification of transport and industry will leave the nation ill-prepared.

Requiring national planning to occur assuming Snowy Hydro 2.0 will happen on time is a significant and unacceptable risk. A delay or failure of that project due to its scale could be crippling.

Incremental projects like additional connections to Tasmania or smaller pumped hydro projects are of lower risk and should proceed now.

Snowy and a failing regulatory system are distorting the market and delaying alternative investment, creating higher market risks for all, and will result in longer-term higher electricity prices for industry and consumers.

Oliver Yates is the former CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and ran as an independent candidate for Kooyong in the 2019 federal election.

Vulnerable Australians will bear the brunt of climate change unless we act

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. Today: climate change.

Consumer Action has long supported imposing a price on carbon emissions as an effective measure to reduce the likelihood of dangerous climate change and its disastrous effects.

Low-income and vulnerable Australians are likely to experience the negative consequences of climate change first and worst, so the goal should be to avert dangerous climate change based on the weight of scientific evidence available.

Any pricing tool should be applied progressively, so those with the most capacity pay the most. Consumer protection also provides a clear means to curb inequalities and to promote fairness, justice and environmental protection in an increasingly complex global economy.

It ensures that people everywhere are treated fairly and with dignity in the marketplace, and have access to safe, healthy, sustainable products and services.

This is particularly important for poor and vulnerable people who are often the most exploited. Federal and state governments should review and renew their approach to consumer rights, with the goal of greater sustainability of consumption and production.

Gerard Brody is the CEO of the Consumer Action Law Centre.

Want to fix energy policy? Ban lobbyists

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. Today: climate change.

The federal government, above everything else, has to stop allowing a particular industry sector free rein to write energy policy. It’s become so normalised for coal and gas interests to write Coalition policy that it would be a huge break if they evicted all the lobbyists and embedded staff and stopped taking industry money.

I understand that there is zero chance of the present government doing this, but a hypothetical future government could.

The best energy policy is no policy at all

In The Daily Fix, Crikey taps into the wisdom of experts and community leaders to find solutions to problems. Today: climate change.

Most major economies are either not a party to the Paris agreement (such as the US), not subject to any meaningful constraints on emissions (such as China), or not on track to meet their targets (such as the EU).

Accordingly, emissions reduction should not be a focus of government policy at this time, given that it would effectively be unilateral and ineffective.

Public policy responses, if any, to changes in the climate should be limited to adaptation measures Australia can directly control.

In terms of energy policy, governments should focus on affordability and reliability. Ideally, the energy market would be free to determine the most desirable means of electricity generation. Proposals for government support for fossil fuels should therefore be rejected, but equally all subsidies, quotas and other government interventions encouraging the use of renewables should also be scrapped.

In a free market, energy companies would compete for who can offer the best “deal” for customers, not for who can best game the system. The best government “energy policy” is none at all.

Gideon Rozner is the director of policy at the Institute of Public Affairs