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An inquiry into wage theft in Western Australia, which aims to expose the deliberate underpayment of money and entitlements to workers, has been backed by Unions WA.

Former chief commissioner of the WA Industrial Relations Commission Tony Beech will undertake the inquiry, which will begin in February, and report to the state government by June.

Industrial relations minister Bill Johnston said the inquiry would examine whether there was wage theft in WA, the reasons and impact on workers, business and the community.

It will also look at the regulatory framework, and recommend ways to combat wage theft and help affected workers.

Unions WA secretary Meredith Hammat said strong laws, punishment of offenders and protections for whistle-blowers were needed to stop wage theft.

‘It is widespread but often hidden because of intimidation and because vulnerable workers are often affected – young people, those in insecure work or those born overseas, including workers with only temporary work visa rights such as students and tourists,’ she said.

‘Victims can be left with little or no income from wages and may be unable to claim Centrelink income support.’