Important changes to your rights at work in Victoria

The Victorian Government has introduced some very important changes to workplace laws which are significant improvements on your rights at work.

It took some time and a lot of advocacy and campaigning, but the Victorian Government finally enacted two important changes – the introduction of wage theft laws and changes to workers’ compensation to acknowledge mental health injuries and support.

From 1 July, both of these important changes came into force. But what do these changes mean?

If you experience a work-related mental injury, and submit a claim for workers’ compensation, the changes now mean you can access early treatment and support. This is especially important as it gives a worker early access to treatment and support while waiting for the outcome of the claim to be determined.

Unlike in the past, you only received treatment and support once your claim was established. Importantly, workers can access up to 13 weeks of treatment and support even if the claim is rejected.

There’s no need for a mental injury diagnosis to access the treatment and the changes mean those claims with mental injury claims must now be processed faster.

These changes to workers’ compensation are significant and very positive for workers. They also represent steps in the right direction in that mental health and mental injuries are finally being given the recognition they deserve, albeit more needs to be done but it represents great first steps.

The other significant change that came into force on 1 July 2021, are the state’s new wage theft laws.

Now employers who are shown to have deliberately withheld wages or other entitlements like superannuation could be prosecuted and fined up to $991,320 for companies or $198,264 for individuals. They could also be sentenced to up to 10 years jail.

The objective of this legislation is to act as a real deterrent to wage theft. For years, the union has taken on case after case of blatant and systematic underpayment, or what is now known as wage theft, from employers who decided that applying the wage entitlements from our agreement is too much work. The introduction of these laws is a clear indication about the prevalence of wage theft across a range of profession and industries including ours.

The newly created Wage Inspectorate Victoria will have the power to investigate and prosecute cases of wage theft. Inspectors will be able to enter workplaces with or without the consent of employers to inspect and seize documents. Of course, there are opportunities for unions to bring cases of wage theft before the inspectorate.

These are important and significant changes. We know that when members are not paid what they are entitled to be paid, it can force a member into difficult financial situations making hard decisions about whether to pay rent or mortgages and putting food on the table.

It’s also important because members who find themselves being underpaid may feel unable to speak out about it or not know how to go about proving it and whether its systematic. The Union will continue pursuing wage theft issues and we encourage members who believe they are being underpaid to contact us for advice.

The Victorian Government is to be congratulated on delivering wage theft laws, despite the strong opposition to them by the Victorian Liberal Party and business lobby groups, and taking the first steps to recognising mental health in the workplace.

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