In light of recent employee underpayment scandals, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned employers that they could face criminal penalties if they're found to be exploiting workers. 

Following the most recent high-profile underpayment case featuring celebrity chef George Calombaris having to pay back $7.8 million to his workers, PM Morrison said during parliamentary question time that a bill is being drafted to deal with the issue. 

"Right now, the Attorney-General is drafting laws to deal with criminalising worker exploitation," he said. 

However Employsure senior employment relations adviser Michael Wilkinson has hit back at the announcement calling for a deeper investigation into the workplace relations systems. 

"It doesn’t make sense — why create fear in the business community?" he questioned.

"Before we label an entire section of Australia’s economy as bosses intent on ripping off their staff, can we perhaps examine a deeper reason why employers might be struggling to pay their staff correctly?

"While systematic underpayment is a serious matter, it's honest errors and a lack of understanding of entitlements that puts smaller...businesses at risk.

"Yet ignorance is not an excuse in the eyes of the FWO, which will pursue cases of underpayment in an attempt to reclaim any unpaid wages.

"It's no secret that we have one of the most complex workplace relations systems in the world, and hospitality employers are especially prone to making wage errors. 

"Between casuals, part-time and full-time workers, along with rising minimum wages, various penalty rates and Award entitlements, it's a merry-go-round and they can find it hard to navigate.

"Thirty percent of calls from our clients in this sector will relate to basic employee entitlements, so it’s clearly an area where they struggle.

"It's incredibly easy for employees to tip-off and report cases of underpayment.

"With the attention being placed on the sector, it's a wake-up call for employers to be confident that they are compliant with the entitlements of their staff," he said. 

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