A ramp-up in laws to the tax office could combat the prevalence of wage theft in Australia.
Treasury has urged legislative changes to give more power to the Australian Taxation Office to recoup employees' stolen wages and superannuation contributions from businesses.
The submission by Treasury into wage underpayments coincides with a swath of evidence brought to the Senate inquiry that the tertiary education sector is rife with wage exploitation.
The Australian National University Postgraduate and Research Students Association, and casual workers at the University of NSW and the University of Melbourne, were among the many submissions detailing underpayments.
Treasury said superannuation guarantee underpayments remained a primary concern, recommending ATO reforms to boost compliance.
This included an increase in the ATO's visibility of SG payments and amending secrecy provisions which would allow the tax authorities to notify employees of underpayments.
"Increasing the ATO's visibility of SG payments by expanding single-touch payroll to all businesses, including small businesses, and requiring superannuation funds to report contribution payments on a more regular basis," Treasury said in its submission.
It also noted legislative changes needed to "amend secrecy provisions to allow the ATO to inform employees of ATO-initiated actions to collect unpaid SG contributions" and to combat wages paid in the black market.
The Australian National University Postgraduate and Research Students Association in its report, released in February 2020 based on a 2019 survey, claimed students were primarily caught up in wages theft scandals due to relying heavily on casual employment.
In the survey conducted by the association, nearly 90 per cent of student respondents claimed their employer was breaching employment.
The association noted this was more prevalent among migrant workers and international students.
The survey also noted that 66 per cent of students worked for businesses that do not operate on the ANU campus.
In its submission, the ATO has urged for a greater rollout of single-touch payroll to improve payment transparency to workers.
It also flagged discrepancies were arising because businesses were failing to distinguish between SG obligations and superannuation obligations under specific industrial awards.
Underpayments across the tertiary sector has been an ongoing issue, particularly among its casual workforces.
University of NSW in its submission noted issues of underpayments arose from "complexity" within the industrial framework and enterprise agreements.
"Applicable Enterprise Agreements can create conditions in which a risk of underpayment may inadvertently occur," UNSW said in its submission.
"Any underpayments identified during the course of this review will be fully rectified, including by the payment of interest and superannuation on any underpaid wages amount."
Casual employees at the University of Melbourne claimed wage theft was continuing, despite the institution already being called out for underpaying its staff by an estimated $15 million.
"Two of the most significant and formalised are misclassification of staff roles and the enforcement of piece rates," the submission reads.
"The University of Melbourne continues to employ practices across its faculties and schools that allow wage theft, exploitation and the degradation of casual staff working conditions ... to proliferate."
The University of Melbourne said the casual employees group had not notified management of further instances of wage theft following its submission to the Senate inquiry.
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