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Australia's Fair Work Standards Don't Check Out

02/02/2016 5:10 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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When you next open your fridge, pause a moment to consider that those delectable cherries could be the taste of someone's hell.

When you next order a pizza for your couch and movie night, just think the person providing your dinner could be receiving half the minimum wage to bring it to you.

We live in a country with a strong minimum wage, labour standards and protection from unfair dismissal. So when you're filling your shopping trolley, you should be safe to assume that your groceries have been picked, plucked or packed in accordance with those fair Australian standards.

But in the past 12 months, we have seen worker's exploited through the underpayment of wages, unsafe working conditions, and compulsory and sub-standard accommodation.

This isn't just happening in unknown backyard operators. This is happening in association with household names like Steggles, Myer, 7-eleven, and Pizza Hut. These instances are the tip of the iceberg. Exploitation of workers is widespread throughout Australia. In retail and hospitality. In agriculture and food processing.

Last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered $22.3 million that 11,000 workers should have been paid. And that doesn't include the millions of dollars in wages recovered for workers by their unions.

This is not the Australia I want to live in.

Rampant wage rip-offs don't only leave workers less in their pockets (and less to spend), it also drives down the pay and conditions across the workforce. It doesn't just deny people a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, it undercuts the millions of employers who are doing the right thing.

But these stories have been met with resounding silence and inaction by the Abbott-Turnbull Government.

Although it is hard to comprehend, employers who deliberately and systematically underpay their workers do so because they think the benefit outweighs the risk of getting caught. Currently, penalties are not a strong enough deterrent to stop this abuse happening.

Labor will substantially increase the maximum penalties for the most serious wrongdoing. Why shouldn't serious worker exploitation face the same million-dollar penalties that other serious anti-competitive conduct faces?

That's why Labor is pledging better protection for workers' rights in the workplace, and we call on the Government to support us. There is an opportunity for the Government to change tack when it comes to protecting workers rights.

Since its election, the Government's disregard for workers is nothing short of shameful. It pronounced the death of the car industry and is overseeing the sacking of maritime workers to be replaced by foreign crew for $2 an hour. It has campaigned for cuts to penalty rates for low-paid workers while presiding over the lowest wage growth in more than 20 years. It has spent millions of tax-payer dollars on a politically motivated Royal Commission.

Meanwhile, in the face of increasing evidence of widespread exploitation, whether it is gross underpayment of wages or sham contracts, Malcolm Turnbull is all talk and no action.

There's nothing exciting about being paid below the minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet.

Australian workers deserve a government that will stand up for them and make sure their rights in the workplace are protected.

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