Attorney-general and minister for industrial relations, Christian Porter, said the vast majority of employers try to do the right thing by their workers, but a strong deterrent was needed for the minority who deliberately exploit their staff.
As well as criminal sanctions, the discussion paper examines a range of issues associated with underpayments, including civil penalties, sham contracting and the question of liability for employers where entities in their supply network flout employment laws.
A separate discussion paper was released today, examining the issue of Project Life Greenfields Agreements. Under the Fair Work Act, enterprise agreements can only apply for a maximum of four years after approval.
While the majority of new projects are finalised within that timeframe, larger projects can take longer and require cost certainty to enable them to be completed on time and on budget.
The question the government is now seeking feedback on is whether agreements could be extended to cover the full-life of a project, instead of the current four-year maximum term.
The government is also asking what additional safeguards could be built into those agreements to ensure workers are not disadvantaged as the result of any changes.