Monitor your pay carefully

If you have done some work and been paid for it, are you sure you were paid correctly?

Beware of wage theft

Wage theft may not be a term you are familiar with – but you should be. You may be a victim of wage theft if your employer has deliberately underpaid you or dishonestly withheld other entitlements such as annual leave or overtime.

All employees are entitled to receive at least the minimum pay and conditions outlined in the relevant award, which for most horticulture workers will be the Horticulture Award 2020. Some workplaces may pay under another award or have a workplace agreement.

It is important that you know what award or agreement relates to you and you have accurate information about pay rates and entitlements. This information is available from the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Wage theft is illegal                                        

On 1 July 2021, the Wage Theft Act 2020 (Vic) came into effect in Victoria. The Act makes it a crime for an employer to deliberately underpay employees, to dishonestly withhold employee entitlements or to fail to keep proper records of employee entitlements in order to gain a financial advantage. These crimes are punishable by a fine of up to $198,264 or 10 years jail for individuals, and a fine of up to $991,320 for companies.

Not all incorrect payments are defined as wage theft, only offences involving dishonest conduct by employers. Honest mistakes or actions taken with due care and diligence are not considered wage theft. However, any inadvertent underpayments are still not allowed, and if they cannot be resolved by discussion with your employer, should be referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

You may suspect wage theft after examining a payslip. It is illegal not to be provided with payslips. If you don’t receive a payslip speak to your employer and if you still don’t receive one, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.

You may be a victim of wage theft if your employer has:

  • deliberately underpaid you
  • dishonestly withheld wages, superannuation or other employee entitlements
  • falsified employee entitlement records to gain a financial advantage

What to do if you suspect wage theft?

This will depend which state or territory you are, or were working in. If you are in Victoria, there is a dedicated wage inspectorate that will investigate wage theft offences, including reports made by employees, and provide general advice about wage theft laws. They can only investigate matters that occurred in Victoria or have a link to Victoria.

Reclaiming money

An employer may choose to repay employee entitlements after investigation, but it cannot be guaranteed that you will be repaid because Victoria’s wage theft laws don’t cover recovering money.

If recovering money owed to you is your main goal, there may be better and quicker options.

For help or advice about recovering money:

  • contact the Fair Work Ombudsman
  • contact your union if you’re a member of one
  • lodge a small claim in the Magistrates’ Court or Circuit Court, or take other civil court action
  • contact the Australian Taxation Office to recover unpaid superannuation.

For underpayment in any state or territory other than Victoria, contact the FairWork Ombudsman.

Some simple rules

For anyone doing horticulture work, regardless of whether it is short-term casual, or permanent full time, there are some simple rules that will help to ensure you do not suffer from wage theft:

  1. Make sure you know what award or agreement you are covered by and what pay and other benefits you are legally entitled to.
  2. Check your payslip to ensure that you are being paid correctly.
  3. If you believe your pay is incorrect, and the issue cannot be resolved with your employer, contact the FairWork Ombudsman or the Wage Inspectorate (Victoria only).

It’s pretty simple!