The new wave of wage theft

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When we talk about wage theft, workers being ‘ripped off’, companies at risk of hundreds of millions in fines, and the blame game comes to mind. But as we live in the new world of work, there are so many complexities which surround this issue, it’s easy to not know what to do next.

Anyone who takes even a passing interest in what’s happening to Australia’s deeply troubled healthcare industry, will know the issue of wage theft is emerging as a major concern – at the very point when the system is close to cracking under the pressure of COVID19. 

For the first time in Australia’s proud history of healthcare provision, the issue of wage theft due to claims of widespread non-compliance to workplace pay and conditions is even causing doctors to take legal action against their employers. 

This is not a good sign for the health of our health system. And the timing is terrible. 

Doctors, along with nurses, paramedics, and other medical staff, are amongst the most committed and hard-working people in Australia. If doctors are having to resort to the courts to get paid, what does that say about the confidence society has in the medical system, particularly during a one in a 100-year pandemic? 

The harsh truth here is that thousands of workers – including but beyond healthcare are having to deal with not only longer hours, but changes in rostering. This can potentially lead to increased fatigue, and pressures caused by COVID19, such as working in isolation or even worse, putting themselves in harm’s way. 

What are doctors doing? 

In moves unprecedented in Australia, thousands of doctors are currently suing not only major health departments such as NSW Health, but large regional hospitals, for millions of dollars in wage theft.  

Not only is this a dramatic development, but it’s even more astonishing when we consider that the scourge of wage theft is hardly a new phenomenon in Australia. Over the past few years, industries which employ hundreds of thousands of Australians such as retail, have been hit by confidence crushing fines around wage theft due to lack of compliance to regulations. 

Partly as a result, the rules and fines around wage theft and non-compliance to workplace regulations have tightened in recent years. HR leaders, health department senior management, and others, will be aware that in many States, it’s a crime to engage in wage theft. 

In Victoria, for example, the Wage Theft Act 2020 (Vic) has from July last year, made it an offence for an organisation, including government health care providers, to engage in wage theft (including failing to keep appropriate records of staff entitlements). These crimes can attract penalties of almost $1 million and – here’s the real rub – almost $20,0000 for individuals, as well as up to 10 years’ jail.  

It’s not as if all organisations which struggle to avoid these problems are simply doing the wrong thing, either. The fact is, even any company can be challenged in the face of having to manage dozens of modern workforce awards. But it’s particularly dire in healthcare. 

Could the timing be worse for healthcare? 

If there is one industry which can’t afford to be hiring more lawyers, it’s the healthcare industry. Already struggling in many places to cope with the third year of COVID19, healthcare providers now must adjust to a new landscape where even doctors are suing them for wage theft. And it’s not something which will just go away, either. 

So, what can healthcare organisations do to avoid being hit with a multi-million-dollar legal claim over wage theft and non-compliance to workplace rules? 

In varying workplace conditions, it’s vital that: 

  • Senior management, and boards, buy-in and are actively involved and accountable for ensuring their organisation has policies which comply with, and in fact are ahead of, changes to State and Federal workplace regulations 
  • Those policies are clearly communicated and updated to the entire workforce, including casual staff. This is particularly important, given the large percentage of Australia’s healthcare industry workers (including some doctors) who are part of the growing casualised workplace. The casualised workforce is not a phenomenon which is likely to go away any time soon, either. Organisations need to accommodate it in their workforce management policies. 
  • Provide the workforce with the most up to date, Australian based and built technology to take a proactive role in managing THEIR OWN workforce engagement. So often, costly and avoidable legal cases on wages theft in Australia have been associated with the use of workforce management software which was not designed to meet the unique needs of Australia’s highly complex workplace regulations. 

There are some signs of hope, too. A large radiological clinic in Western Australia, comprising about 100 radiologists, has benefited from adopting nimbus to streamline their workforce management strategy. The company reported that one of the benefits of deploying the nimbus Time2Work workforce management solution was that it was able to save two days of administration time, allowing radiographers to focus their time and efforts on their core roles and higher value tasks, without the concern of compliance or contractual breaches.  

Wage Theft a concern?  

With compliance at its heart, the nimbus Workforce Optimisation solutions take the guesswork out of scheduling, creating an optimised business process for all teams, departments, and locations – from Head Office to the customer floor. Learn more about why compliant scheduling is key to business success, talk to us today.  


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