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Employers in Australia May Face 10 Years in Jail for Wage Theft

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Australia Moves to Criminalise Underpayment of Employees

When parliament reconvenes on Monday, Australia’s Labour government will submit legislation to address “loopholes” in employment law, a move opposed by employer groups concerned about increased expenses.

Workplace Minister Tony Burke announced on Sunday that he would present legislation making it a criminal offence to intentionally underpay employees, with a possible punishment of ten years in prison and a fine of A$7.8 million ($5.0 million).

Employers who make honest mistakes will not face penalties, according to Burke in a statement.

The legislation’s specifics have yet to be revealed. In a speech last week, Burke stated that the bill would, in addition to criminalising “wage theft,” make it easier for casual workers to get permanent jobs, investigate the use of labour hire firms to undercut minimum wage rates, and establish minimum standards for “gig economy” workers, such as those working in food delivery and rideshare apps.

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In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday, he stated that the impact on business will be small, while “some people will have to pay more.” Businesses with less than 15 employees would be exempt from some rules, he said in a statement.

On Friday, Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott termed the planned reforms “unworkable,” telling Reuters, “It’s going to add cost, complexity, make it harder to get casual work, make it harder to employ people.”

According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the regulation will limit independent contracting and jeopardise the viability of online food delivery and rideshare services.

Australia’s Referendum Over Indigenous Voice in Parliament

On October 14, Australians will vote in a historic referendum to decide whether to establish an Indigenous Voice in Parliament.

If passed, the referendum would include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country’s constitution and create a permanent body to advise on laws.

In Australia, the proposal has sparked heated controversy. In nearly 50 years, the country has not had a successful referendum. A majority of Australians must vote yes for it to succeed. A majority of support is also required in at least four of Australia’s six states.

The parliament would next design and discuss the makeup, functions, and powers of the body, whose recommendations would not be binding.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese termed the election “a once-in-a-generation chance to bring our country together and change it for the better” when he announced the date at a rally in Adelaide.

He described The Voice as “a committee of Indigenous Australians, chosen by Indigenous Australians, giving advice to government so that we can get a better result for Indigenous Australians.”

“You’re being asked… to say yes to an idea whose time has come – yes to an invitation that comes directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves.”

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In 2017, the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a historic document, advocated it. The declaration, drafted by more than 250 Indigenous leaders, is widely regarded as the best – albeit not unanimous – call to action for reforms affecting First Nations Australians.

Australia is the only Commonwealth country that has never signed a treaty with its indigenous people, and supporters think the Voice is a critical step towards reconciliation.

Indigenous Australians experience disproportionate disadvantage throughout society, which Australia has long struggled to solve.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton, a Voice opponent, believes the proposal lacks specificity and, controversially, claims it might ethnically divide Australians.

However, several No campaigners, including Mr. Dutton, have been accused of race-baiting and falsehoods. They, in turn, have accused the Yes campaign of elitism and disregarding legitimate concerns of ordinary Australians.

The intensity and tone of the discussion, according to mental health advocates, is taking a toll on Indigenous people. Australia had its last referendum in 1999, when it decided against becoming a republic.

Only eight of Australia’s 44 referendums were successful, with the most recent taking place in 1977. None have passed without bipartisan backing.

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