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Dear Comrade: Help! My boss stole my leave!

Dear Comrade is Megaphone's advice column, where union members and officials respond to your questions about work, activism, and the world. Submit your questions here.

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Dear Comrade

I recently resigned from the business where I worked for 5 years, and although I brought in a formal letter of resignation and offered to work out my notice period, the boss told me to leave straight away without even finishing my shift.  

I got paid for my last week of work ok, but they haven’t paid me my outstanding annual leave. I have almost four weeks accrued – worth over $5000!  

That’s bad enough for me, but this has also happened to my other friends that used to work for the same business – we all left around the same time because the boss was treating us badly.  

I could really use the money, but people have told me that I’ll never get back such a small amount through Fair Work and I should just move on. Still, I hate the idea that the boss will pocket my annual leave, and that of my friends.  

 -Leaveless 

Dear Leaveless 

Your all-too-common story is precisely why we need not only wage theft laws, but an efficient system through which workers can reclaim their stolen wages.  

Yes, if you were to actually have to chase down your wages through the Fair Work Commission, you'd probably get nowhere.  

Thankfully, there are other avenues of support.  

In the first instance, you need to gather your evidence. Your payslips should have everything you need, and that’s why it’s a legal requirement for your boss to provide you with payslips and keep a record. 

Then you can ask your union (or a union-backed support like the Young Workers Centre or the Migrant Workers Centre) to draft a letter of demand. Strange as it may seem, a lot of the time bad bosses just crumble as soon as they get such a letter. It’s almost like they have no respect for their workers’ humanity, and only get concerned once they realise they might personally be in trouble. Curious.  

And they should be worried, because they are in trouble. Wage Theft is a crime in Victoria! The laws we fought for say that an employer cannot dishonestly withhold your wages or entitlements - the penalty is up to $198,264 or up to 10 years imprisonment for individuals.  

The Victorian Government has also promised to make accessing justice easier for victims of wage theft, with provision for wage theft cases to be taken to the Magistrates Court.  

Of course, that’s just one option. You can also start making some noise with your former co-workers; we’ve certainly seen Hospo Voice members utilising the media to great effect!  

Whatever you do, we hope you’ll do it in union with your mates, and show that dodgy boss that wage theft doesn’t pay.  

- Gabriel, organiser with the Migrant Workers Centre

*Megaphone Journal sometimes edits details of a Dear Comrade letter to preserve the anonymity of our letter writers. But all stories are based on genuine queries.

Got a question for a comrade?

Dear Comrade, I recently resigned from the business where I worked for 5 years, and although I brought in a formal letter of resignation and offered to work out my notice period, the boss told me to leave straight away without even finishing my shift.  I got paid for my last week of work ok, but they haven’t paid me my outstanding annual leave. I have almost four weeks accrued – worth over $5000! 

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