Criminalise wage theft: ex-ACCC head demands action
“Get on with it now”. That was the message former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Alan Fels sent Canberra on Wednesday, in an effort to criminalise wage theft.
Canberra needs to criminalise wage theft and include jail sentences as punishment, the former head of Australia’s competition and consumer watchdog says.
Professor Fels is also warning the banks have already started backsliding into dodgy practices again since the banking royal commission.
The former head of the ACCC is urging for tougher protections for ordinary workers as well as tighter reins for big companies and their bosses.
“They really need to get on with it now,” Fels told the Melbourne Press Club on Wednesday, suggesting the government move to criminalise wage theft.
“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. In serious cases, there should be a possibility of a jail sentence.”
In July, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was drafting laws dealing with worker exploitation, but pointed the finger at the union movement.
It came as celebrity chef George Calombaris copped a $200,000 penalty for ripping off his restaurant staff of nearly $8m.
Speaking during the launch of his book Fighting For The Underdog, Fels doubted banks were serious about changing their ways after the royal commission.
“It’s really obvious just reading the papers and looking around, the financial services lobby is perhaps the most powerful and effective in Australia,” Fels said.
“It’s fought off reform over many years. I think it will probably do the same over the next two or three years. And I can already see it having an effect.”
But the banks have other major problems, one being the rise of big super funds.
Fels said a proposal to open up the national investment fund to the public in order to counter the growing power of industry funds should be examined.
“Maybe with the power of the industry funds, the declining power of the retail funds, maybe we need to get the Future Fund competing,” he said
“I think that ought to be looked at. I don’t want to quite endorse it.”
However Fels foresees some problems with the idea, including that it would give the government-owned fund an unfair advantage.
“I’d feel almost, (that) it’s unfair competition, you can just put your money with the government super fund, with the government,” he said.
“Why take the risk of an industry fund?”