MEDIA RELEASE With Victoria’s Parliament passing Australia’s first laws to criminalise wage theft, the national hospitality union says it will now push for the NSW Government to introduce laws to jail wage thieves.
The NSW Government has shown zero interest in criminalising wage theft, angering hospitality workers across the state. This comes despite Victoria’s historic vote, and with similar legislation before parliament in Queensland. West Australia is also considering criminalising wage theft, and the Federal Government has also indicated it will introduce criminal penalties.
Victoria’s new laws mean bosses who dishonestly withhold wages, super or other employee entitlements will face fines of up to $198,264 for individuals, $991,320 for companies, and up to 10 years jail.
Digital union Hospo Voice, the hospitality arm of the United Workers Union, played a critical role campaigning for the Victorian laws and has today releasing a national survey of 1140 hospitality workers* showing 83 per cent have been affected by wage theft, in some cases with wages as low as $10 an hour.
This week Hospo Voice rolled out its venue-rating site Fair Plate (fairplate.org.au) to Sydney. Fair Plate was piloted in Victoria over the last two years with close to 3000 workers using it to anonymously rate current and former employers.
Reviews on Fair Plate helped lift the lid on major wage theft scandals including those with celebrity chefs Shannon Bennett, George Calombaris, Neil Perry and trendy cafe Barry in Melbourne’s inner north. Hospo Voice held dozens of noisy protests outside disgraced venues across the city, and union members are vowing to unleash similar actions across NSW.
The launch of Fair Plate is part of Hospo Voice’s #RebuildHospo campaign which aims to use the industry reopening to press reset on wage theft, insecure work and sexual harassment. More than 10,000 workers have attended online meetings, signed petitions and spoken out in surveys since March 23, when the sector collapsed overnight.
Eighty-three percent of hospitality workers surveyed by the union nominated fighting wage theft as their top issue. The survey found the most common wage theft includes:
The Fair Plate website includes a venue accreditation scheme, so punters can find places that pay staff properly. Pay slips at Fair Plate Certified venues have been checked by Hospo Voice and accredited venues are promoted online and are given a window sticker.
Comments attributable to Jo-anne Schofield, National President United Workers Union:
“We congratulate Premier Daniel Andrews for leading the way with this critical reform, and all the brave Hospo Voice members in Victoria who spoke out against wage theft and put wage theft at the top of the political agenda.”
“There is a national wage theft crisis and some of the worst exploitation we’ve found is in Sydney. It is ground zero for wage theft. But the NSW Government keeps burying its head in the sand on this issue.”
“Now, as the hospitality industry reopens after Covid, Hospo Voice members will fight to make sure the NSW industry also turns over a new leaf. Wage theft is the dominant business model in the hospitality sector and that will only change when bosses know that they can either pay workers properly or face time in jail.”
“That’s why we’re taking fairplate.org.au to Sydney. This site has thousands of reviews by hospo staff, so customers can see what’s going on under the table at their favourite venues.”
“As the scheme rolls out, customers can find Fair Plate Certified restaurants, cafés and pubs, where we’ve checked the pay slips of staff. This lets everyone find out which venues are accountable.”
Comments attributable to James-Anthony Consiglio, private chef & Hospo Voice workplace leader:
“I worked on the Sydney Harbour as a private chef on super-yachts, cooking for Sydney’s mega-rich and celebrity set. I worked on average about 70 hours a week but every time I checked my payslip the hours show I worked just 36.5 hours for that week. The company I worked for was doctoring my payslips. It was so brazen. They saw it as their right to steal my wages. There was a cone of silence about this issue at the company. When I tried to raise the issue, I was reprimanded by HR.”
“Eventually I took them to court and I won back around $20,000. In truth, I was owed a lot more than that but I didn’t have a lawyer and I couldn’t afford to keep fighting. The company tried to belittle me. They tried to intimidate me with expensive lawyers. That’s how bosses game the system – they know it’s almost impossible for workers to navigate the legal minefield of the current laws and actually win justice. So normally, they get to pocket stolen wages and keep building their empires. The toll on my mental health from this fight was enormous – it pushed me over edge. I had to get professional help.”
“Making wage theft a crime is a huge victory for hospitality workers in Victoria. But wage theft is just as common in Sydney and it’s not good enough for the NSW Government to pretend it doesn’t exist. Hospo Voice members will fight to criminalise wage theft across NSW.”
Survey comments from NSW hospitality workers:
“I worked 45-50 hours a week but was only paid for 38. Over the course of my employment this comes to approximately $28,000 per year of unpaid labour. I worked hard for the company because I loved my job, but I was not adequately compensated for it.” – NSW hospitality worker
“My boss pays part of my wage on the books and part of it in cash, meaning I miss out on super for that portion of my wage. I was also trialled for about a month when I had just gotten a job and I was paid below the minimum award rate ($22 per hour).” – NSW hospitality worker
“My previous employer owes me almost $3000 in unpaid super. This is unlikely to be paid back as they declared bankruptcy. I worry about my retirement as I have only ever had casual/part time jobs, sometimes working 3-4 jobs at a time.” – NSW hospitality worker
*Hospo Voice’s #RebuildHospo Survey was conducted online with 1140 hospitality workers across Australia in early June, 2020.