Criminalising “Wage Theft” in Australia: Property, Stealing, and Other Concepts

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The underpayment of an employee by an employer is popularly described as “wage theft”. In 2021, the Queensland Parliament passed the Criminal Code and Other Legislation (Wage Theft) Amendment Act 2020 (Qld). This Act amends several pieces of Queensland legislation, including the Criminal Code Act 1899. Relatedly, in 2020, the Victorian Government passed the Wage Theft Act 2020 (Vic), which created several new criminal offences, such as dishonestly withholding employee entitlements. This article examines the recent legislation in Australia targeting “wage theft”. In so doing, the article compares the two States’ respective approaches to the criminalisation of underpaying employees and, among other things, highlights the significances, both conceptual and practical, of charging employers engaged in “wage theft” – in essence the non-payment of a debt – with the indictable offence of “stealing”. Further, and given that most employers are companies, the article also considers some difficulties that arise in prosecuting companies and whether the legislative reforms adequately take into account that corporate context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-231
Number of pages14
JournalCriminal Law Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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