New laws designed to crack down on phoenixing activity have stalled, because the Morrison government allowed the bill to lapse during the May federal election.
The laws, which include new criminal penalties and a scheme to identify company directors are urgently needed, according to the peak body representing insolvency practitioners.
Government ‘dragging its heels’
The Australian Restructuring Insolvency & Turnaround Association has accused the federal government of dragging its heels over introducing the Combating Illegal Phoenixing bill.
“Despite the claims of action by government, unfortunately almost nothing is really being done,” the ARITA chief executive, John Winter, told Guardian Australia.
Phoenixing happens when a company deliberately goes into liquidation, and then re-starts under a different name to avoid paying creditors, and most importantly, workers’ wages and entitlements.
ARITA wrote to federal parliamentarians this week urging them to do more to combat the problem, warning that reforms should be in place ahead of potential economic downturn.
Phoenixing costs economy $5 billion
Price Waterhouse Cooper estimates that phoenixing costs the Australian ecomony at least $5 billion in 2016-17.
The figure is made up of $3.2 billion in unpaid bills, $300 million in unpaid employee entitlements, and $1.7 billion in unpaid taxes.
The new criminal offences of illegal stripping of assets would attract penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment.
PM more intent on cracking down on unions and declaring war on Get Up
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Fair Work Claims, said illegal phoenixing was a form of wage theft and a scourge on Australian workplaces.
“Low life employers who don’t want to pay leave entitlements and superannuation simply put their business into liquidation, sack their workers, then re-start under a different name and often re-hire the same workers straight away,” he said.
“Unfortunately we currently have a Prime Minister who seems more intent on cracking down on unions and declaring ‘war’ on activist groups like Get Up, instead of protecting workers who are being ripped off by greedy bosses.
“The government should get this bill before the parliament as soon as possible – and while they are at it, they should introduce criminal penalties for wage theft as well.”
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Fair Work Claims is a private consultancy and advocacy firm with no affiliation to any government agency, commission or tribunal.