Bosses who deliberately steal money from their employees’ pay will face criminal penalties, but genuine mistakes won’t be punished.
But Attorney-General Christian Porter says employers who make genuine mistakes and fix them quickly will avoid a criminal record.
The coalition government is releasing a discussion paper on Thursday looking for community feedback about wage theft.
“These new criminal penalties should rightly apply only to the most serious types of offending where there is clear evidence of persistent or repeat offending, or offending on a significant scale,” Mr Porter said.
“We recognise that the industrial relations system is complex and we need to ensure that any new penalty regime is fit for purpose and avoids any unintended consequences.
“For example, we do not want employers who make genuine mistakes and move swiftly to rectify them to end up with a criminal record.”
Celebrity chef George Calombaris recently copped a $200,000 penalty for ripping off nearly $8 million from his restaurant staff.
Former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission boss Allan Fels earlier this month called for wage theft to be criminalised now.
“Wage theft is just as serious as consumer theft. The law and the penalties should be put on the same basis as consumer and competition law,” Professor Fels said.
“In serious cases, there should be a possibility of a jail sentence.”
The Morrison government believes the new laws must include significant jail terms and fines for the most serious offences.
A migrant worker task force found strong evidence of systematic and deliberate underpayment by some employers, which the government wants to address as a priority.
The government wants to hear if there are other types of exploitation that should also attract criminal penalties, and what weight should be given to whether underpayment was part of a systematic pattern of conduct.