Shocking worker exploitation and ‘wage theft’ continues during Covid lockdowns
Women forced to work in bikinis, workers forced to clean their boss’s house for free, and threats of violence against anyone who dares go to the police – the exploitation of workers has continued through Covid lockdowns, even in the absence of vulnerable foreigners staff.
A parliamentary inquiry in South Australia into wage theft has revealed unfair and systematic underpayment of wages and the shocking treatment of some workers during the pandemic.
In its report released Wednesday, the commission said its three-year investigation revealed slavery-like practices in many workplaces.
Casual workers such as waiters were among the most exploited, and many were asked to sacrifice salary and work unpaid hours.
In some cases, passports were taken with workers forced to pay as much as $3,000 for their return, while others were confined to one location and worked extremely long hours on misallocations.
‘Wage theft proved ubiquitous in South Australia among vulnerable cohorts of workers, especially those in non-union, casual, precarious work,’ the committee said.
‘In fact, wage theft has become the basis of a business model.’
Among its recommendations, it proposed the creation of a South Australian wage theft law that would criminalize the most dishonest, systematic and deliberate underpayments with penalties, including imprisonment in extreme cases.
Chairman Irene Pnevmatikos said there is “important work to be done” by the state government to improve the situation.
But in a dissenting report, Liberal MP Heidi Girolamo said she did not support the creation of a state law, arguing that any changes to the industrial relations system should be made at the federal level.
Ms Girolamo said she strongly condemned any employer who failed to comply with the law regarding wages and conditions.
She does, however, question the frequent use of the term wage theft.
“It’s a very emotional, fraught and misleading term that can mischaracterize hardworking small business owners who make real, accidental mistakes or miscalculations,” she said.
“Such miscalculations or errors are often due to the complexity of the national system.”
During its investigation, the committee also found problems with the payment of employees under the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme instituted by the federal government at the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Heard evidence of employees being ordered to clean their employer’s home to make up for the difference between their regular wages and the JobKeeper payment of $750, an employee was asked to sacrifice 10 percent of his salary to get a job. company, and employees who were directed take leave entitlements even though their employer received JobKeeper payments.