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Know Your Rights: A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Deal with Underpayment and Unfair Treatment at Work

By | Lauren Cordell

Day by day, we devote a significant amount of time to work. Whether you are a parent who has worked for the same company for several years, or a student trying to keep yourself in school while trying to pay off your college loans, work is necessary for you and your family’s survival.

However, some instances may arise that you, as an employee, may experience being mistreated in your workplace. This is especially apparent in low-paying jobs, where the common issues are underpayment of wages and delayed compensation. In Australia, this is known as “wage theft”, which lands a huge punch on the average working population in the country.

What is Wage Theft?

According to the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations, wage theft is an unfair labor practice. It could be charged as a criminal offense committed by an employer that consists of acts involving deliberate underpayment of labor compensation or withholding employment entitlements such as leaves and overtime pay. Wage theft is a recurring issue in the private sector.

Underpayment of wages and other unfair practices by an employer can consist of these other following occurrences:

  • Not paying your superannuation;
  • Payment of incorrect salary rate of the supposed position or delegation you are hired under;
  • Not delivering the notice for termination of your employment; and
  • Not paying out your entitlements such as long service leaves or annual leaves properly.

Claims for underpayment of wages may be charged against the offending employer with up to 10 years of imprisonment. Although dealing with an underpaid labor claim may seem like a cumbersome move, several law firms in Australia, such as Morrissey Law + Advisory, are experts in the security of payment NSW who can give reasonable legal assistance.

Now that you know what wage theft is and how it could be happening to you right at your workplace, you might now think about what steps you should take to put forward an underpaid labor claim. The following are steps you may take to protect your rights as a worker:

Step 1: Discuss the Situation With Your Employer

In all dealings, consider that there will always be room for error, especially when it comes to business and employment. One step that would greatly help put forward your salary concerns is speaking to your employer directly and addressing the problem.

Of course, it is also essential to prepare if your concern would not be taken lightly by your boss. After all, underpayment may not only be subject to an investigation but can also have the employer charged with criminal liability and be made to pay a hefty fine. In this case, settlement is preferable.

Writing a letter to your employer can also be an option, as you lay out your request for compensation of underpaid wages. Know that it is within your right under the Wage Theft Law to demand your employer the salary you are entitled to. If you cannot negotiate, you can set an ultimatum giving a date you want to be paid, lest they want you to go to court.

Step 2: Determine What You Are Owed

The next step to take is calculating what amount you are entitled to. Wages due to a worker can be set out in three ways: through a Modern Award, as stipulated in your employment contract, or as provided in an enterprise bargaining agreement. The National Employment Standards (NES)  prescribes the minimum wage for employees.

All kinds of employees are covered under the NES – whether you are a regular employee or a casual one. Although they are subject to different entitlements, such as the latter may have more favorable conditions in their contract concerning entitlements, all employees are subject to the NES.

The Fair Work Ombudsman site offers a free calculator for you to compute your wage, depending on the type and level of your job, your industry, job classification, etc.

Step 3: Bring Your Claim to the Proper Court or Agency

Suppose you and your employer cannot agree upon the issue regarding the underpaid wage claim. In that case, you may seek out the help of a lawyer and bring your suit before the Federal Court of Australia.

There are several causes of action upon which you may premise your claim – it could be under a breach of a modern award, breach of provisions under an enterprise bargaining agreement, or a breach of contract. With claims not over $20,000, the court could quickly adjudicate your action in a small claims procedure. This can lead to a swift resolution and get you paid in no time.

You can also proceed to the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET), a forum specially formed for underpaid wage complaints and other employment-related issues.


Workers are the backbone of any industry, and it is within your right to demand what you deserve if you are subject to unfair treatment in the workplace. Countries make laws to afford protection to employees, especially when you are a victim of wage theft. Do not hesitate to ask for legal advice and know that help will be available for you.



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