Federal Politics

Bill Shorten unveils new policies designed to protect workers from being ripped off

Labor leader Bill Shorten has unveiled a suite of new policy measures designed to protect Australian workers from being ripped off by dodgy bosses.

In a pitch to voters that will sharpen the contrast between Labor and the Coalition over workplace laws, and which comes as the government prepares to try once more to pass laws to re-instate the Building and Construction Commission on Tuesday, Mr Shorten plans four key measures to protect workers' rights.

Labor leader Bill Shorten has unveiled new policy measures designed to protect workers' rights.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has unveiled new policy measures designed to protect workers' rights.  Photo: Michelle Smith

Those measures are strong penalties for employers who underpay workers; stronger legal protections for workers entitlements and increased penalties for sham contracting; greater powers for the Fair Work Ombudsman to pursue companies that go into liquidation and do not pay out entitlements and; greater protections for overseas workers to stop them being underpaid.

The plan comes after a landmark investigation by Fairfax Media last year revealed workers at 7-Eleven stores were being massively underpaid and that payrolls were being doctored; separately, Fairfax also revealed that Pizza Hut was using sham contracting to pay drivers as little as $12 an hour, without superannuation.

Mr Shorten said that after meetings with workers around the country, and after the Ombudsman recovered $22.3 million in back pay for underpaid workers in 2014-15, he had decided to act.

"Malcolm Turnbull talks about better conditions for workers – but as with everything else, he says one thing and does something completely different. As the Liberals refuse to act, Labor will. More must be done to protect these workers from exploitation," he said.

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"A Shorten Labor Government will stand up for middle and working-class families. Labor will put people first, strengthening and protecting workers' rights at work.

"We will consult employers and their representatives, workers and unions on the scale of the increase to penalties to ensure there is an appropriate deterrent in place to protect workers from unscrupulous employers."

The opposition leader accused the Liberals of being silent and inactive on the need to address worker exploitation.

However, last October, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash established a high-level ministerial working group to lead a crack down on the exploitation of foreign workers.

The group's focus is on employers engaged in systematic underpayment of employees, rather than companies which accidentally do the wrong thing.

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