On this episode of Radio Stingray, we’re discussing wage theft, focusing on the nature of it and the various ways in which it influences a number of industries within the Australian workforce.
On today's show we are joined by Tim Nelthorpe, from the National Union of Workers, Victoria (NUW), and Activist with Hospo Voice, James Anthony Conciglio. While Tim is focused on the fair treatment of horticulture workers and James is a Chef and activist in the hospitality industry, both individuals share a common purpose in providing their industries’ workers with the resources and education to recognise the exploitation of their services.
Key Themes and Discussion Points
What is Wage Theft?
- Wage theft is the denial of wages or benefits rightfully owed to the employee by the employer. Wage theft can be presented in many ways, including but not limited to; failure to pay over time and violating the minimum wage award of that industry.
What is Hospo Voice?
- Representative for Hospo Voice James Anthony Conciglio believes that they provide one of the largest working industries in Australia a collaborative platform in which hospitality workers can use to voice concerns regarding their treatment within the work place.
- James simply defines wage theft as a dodgy boss who isn’t paying the correct award to their worker/s.
What is the Award?
- Awards are designated legal minimums allowed to each industry as per the guidelines put forth by the Fair Work Commission.
- Unique to all industries within Australia, these awards are established by the government in order to regulate and monitor the specific pay rates, penalties and allowances.
Tim Nelthorpe and the NUW
- Tim represents the horticulture industry, which encompasses 100,000 + workers picking and packing the fresh produce that’s bought, sold and distributed in major supermarkets, such as Coles and Woolworths.
- Represented as having some of the highest minimum wages in the world, which has been primarily achieved through enterprise bargaining, Unions have lost sight of the internal struggles relating to wage theft.
- For example, the horticulture award enables a peace rate clause that employers use to shave wages in a shifty yet legal manner.
- Roughly 70% of the horticulture industry in Australia is paid in cash, therefor unrequired to abide by the regulated awards of fair trade within that industry.
The Informal Economy
- The informal economy refers to a large sector of the Australian economy that is paid in cash and thus lack representation from government and privatised unions established to enable fair awards and better practices.
- Representative for Hospo Voice, James Consiglio, believes that this informal economy is extremely prevalent within both the hospitality and horticulture industries. He also believes it’s most common for casual workers and migrants who require immediate financial support.
- Former Master Chef judge, George Calombaris was responsible for one of the largest displays of wage theft in the history of the Australian hospitality industry.
- The owner of various MAde Establishment companies, George underpaid more than 500 current and former employees over nearly two decades and was forced to back pay over $7.8 million in wages and superannuation this year.
- This episode of events that are central to the operation of numerous restaurants and venues across Victoria has only motivated James and Hospo Voice to increase awareness and continue to educate employees in fair work practices.
The Operation of a Modern Union
- James of Hospo Voice believes that both the state government and the relevant industry workplace have a responsibility in empowering and supporting the modern union and its members.
- Ombudsmen are often utilised by unions in order to resolve issues regarding the miscommunication between fair trade and union members. These ombudsmen are, however typically referred to as “work place umpires”, often not on the side of the workers.
- Tim Nelthorpe of the NUW believes that the modern union has the responsibility to give their workers an understanding of their right to not only join a union but to stand up when being mistreated.
Fortifying the ‘New Union Model’
- Representative for the NUW, Tim Nelthorpe believes that workers he represents within the horticulture industry have success moving around the industry, maintaining union contacts and records. This is important as many work places require a nomadic operation and this fluidity suits the modern workplace effectively in regards to maintained support.
- Tim Nelthorpe states that the wages of an individual aren’t the core concern raised within the horticulture industry, rather it’s focused more on job security and the voice in which the individual is given in regards to internal and external business decisions.
What is Hospo Voice Doing?
- A member run organization, Hospo Voice works in numbers and solidarity, and aims to achieve better long term quality of industry standards in regards to wage awards and their regulation
- Hospo Voice also hopes to make wage theft a punishable crime. Currently in the organisational stages, Hospo Voice is in contact with the Victoria State Government in hopes to enact the law by 2020.
Important Quotes |
“Where there’s a union that’s well organised and prepared to fight, we see good wage and condition outcomes for workers. Where there is no union, or no fight, we see employers seizing on every available opportunity to steal as much as they possibly can out of their workforce” – Shane Reside
“The MUA Sydney branch has been fighting the full spectrum of businesses, from dodgy back yard operators to hundred million dollar players like NRMA” – Shane Reside
“When we talk about wage theft, we’re talking about dodgy bosses who aren’t paying current award” – James Anthony Conciglio
“We estimate that something around 70% of the industry are being paid in cash, and the vast majority of those are earning well less than the minimum wage” – Tim Nelthorpe
“Realistically, the sheer scale of the problem (wage theft) in our industry, means that unless unions are recognised and given a role in the 90% of sectors in which we don’t have government mandated inductions with workers, then things won't improve” – Tim Nelthorpe
“Workers having a voice, and workers being educated on their rights to join a union is a big part of it (combating wage theft)” – Tim Nelthorpe
“10% of the Australian workforce are temporary migrant workers” – Shane Reside
To learn more about the National Union of Workers and the type of difference individuals such as Tim are making, visit https://www.nuw.org.au/.
If you would like to learn more about the Hospo Voice and their unionisation of the hospitality industry, visit https://www.hospovoice.org.au/.
If you’re unsure, or just curious as to what your industry award is, please visit https://www.fairwork.gov.au/awards-and-agreements/awards.
If you’re interested in reading further into the recent situation involving George Calombaris’ wage theft, please do so through this ABC News article https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-18/george-calombaris-made-establishment-backpays-underpaid-workers/11320274.
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