Canberra, Sep 3 (IANS) Employers, who deliberately underpay workers, will face jail time and heavy fines under new laws proposed by the Australian government.

Minister for Workplace Relations Tony Burke told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Sunday that he will introduce legislation for the industrial relations changes to Parliament on Monday, Xinhua news agency reported.

Under the proposed laws, the maximum criminal penalty for employers who are found to have intentionally engaged in wage theft will be increased to a 10-year imprisonment and fines worth up to 7.8 million Australian dollars ($5.03 million), or three times the amount that was underpaid if that figure exceeds the maximum fine.

The legislation would close a “loophole” and that he was surprised by backlash from business and employer groups. “If you intentionally, as a worker, take money from the till, it is a criminal offence and it should be. But if the employer intentionally withholds money from your pay, it’s not a criminal offence,” he said.

“That’s a simple loophole, it should be logically simple to close – I’m surprised it’s even been controversial. The objective here is not to send people to jail. The objective is to make sure people are paid properly.”