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Question: Wage Theft in South Australia

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (14:41): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question on the topic of wage theft to the Treasurer, in his role as Minister for Industrial Relations.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The Treasurer is also the Minister for Industrial Relations with responsibility for SafeWork SA. Last year SafeWork SA cut $150,000 of funding per year from the Young Workers Legal Service. That service used to provide free legal support to young workers to recover stolen wages, and had successfully acted many times to help international students deal with wage theft.

I am sure all members of this council were shocked to see the Facebook footage of the young woman working in Fun Tea at the Adelaide Central Market's Chinatown area yesterday being hit and kicked by her former employer after she asked for her trial wages to be paid, some $10 an hour (which in itself would be wage theft)—indeed, many, many hours worked for no money at all. She accused him of wage theft and stood up for her rights as a worker and an individual, and was assaulted for that privilege.

What has re-emerged following this incident, as well as the broader conversation in our community, is the exploitation of international students in Adelaide. With stories of wage theft rampant and common intimidation tactics used being the threat of deportation, as was made in that video, young workers are in incredibly vulnerable situations, and they have been routinely exploited. The COVID pandemic has simply made this worse. My questions to the Treasurer are:

1. Will he reinvest that $150,000 per year in the Young Workers Legal Service to do their most valuable and much-needed work?

2. What is he doing to protect international students working in South Australia to address wage theft and exploitation?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer) (14:43): I thank the honourable member for her question. SafeWork SA has advised me today that they first logged a query about the incident at 2:21pm yesterday, and I think the Hon. Ms Franks' office rang SafeWork SA in relation to the issue. SafeWork SA advises me that they advised the Hon. Ms Franks' staff member (I assume) that issues of underpayment of wages should correctly be addressed to the office of the Fair Work Ombudsman. That is, the body that has power and control over underpayment of wages is the Fair Work Ombudsman.

SafeWork SA advises me that at 2.39pm they received the next telephone call from, again, the Hon. Ms Franks' office where the information in relation to an assault of an employee was raised. Again, SafeWork SA advises me that they correctly, in their view, advised that where criminal assault was involved, SAPOL was the appropriate authority to investigate. I am pleased to see that SAPOL has taken action and that that is now publicised in relation to charges being laid or potentially action being taken by South Australia Police.

I am further advised by SafeWork SA that, in relation to matters within their jurisdiction, which are work health and safety laws in South Australia, they have now logged, I think off their own judgement, the incident for an investigation by one of their officers, and one of their officers from SafeWork SA will be making inquiries in relation to aspects that relate to the control and jurisdiction of SafeWork SA, repeating that the issue of underpayment of wages is an issue for the Fair Work Ombudsman in the federal jurisdiction. Issues of criminal assaults and allegations of criminal assaults are issues for South Australia Police, and South Australia Police are appropriately taking action, as I understand it, in relation to that.

The only other point that I would make—and I guess I am not in a position to have direct knowledge of this other than from hearing the question from the honourable member and also absorbing the advice I have received from SafeWork SA and my office—is that I have also been advised that the business actually issued a statement today indicating that the person alleged to have committed the assault was not related to the business at all but was a customer and was not either the employer or former employer. I don't know whether that is correct or not. All I can say is that that is a claim that has been made by the business today, as I understand it. Time will tell in relation to the connection, or not, the alleged assailant had with that particular business.

In concluding, what I can say is I am sure all members would join both the Hon. Ms Franks and me in being appalled at the vision of the incident that was well publicised on television last evening. Whatever the circumstances are, there is no excuse or explanation or defence for that sort of action and behaviour and it would appear that, appropriately, South Australia Police is taking action in regard to that.

In relation to the issue, as I said, of underpayment of wages and the grant from SafeWork SA, that is a jurisdictional issue for the Fair Work Ombudsman and the federal government. In all the discussions I have with employee associations, they make it quite clear to me that this is an important part of their ongoing work. They see it as part of their reason for being. I am sure it won't surprise the Hon. Ms Franks to know that a number of those unions have significant funding capacity available to them. It is used in many creative ways, as we see in relation to protest actions against the federal and/or state governments.

A number of those employee association representatives make it quite clear to me they see this as an important part of their ongoing role and their reason for being and it's an important part of their ongoing work in terms of representing employees who might raise issues with them.

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