Melissa Kennedy

PhD Candidate

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Melissa Kennedy is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law, Melbourne Law School. She is also a member of the Melbourne School of Government. She researches across the fields of labour law, criminalisation and regulatory theory, with a focus on the responses to the underpayment of workers in Australia. Melissa is the Associate Editor of the Australian Journal of Labour Law and Administrator of the Labour Law Research Network.

Prior to her doctoral studies, completed her Master of Laws at the University of Melbourne. While studying, Melissa worked as a Research Assistant at the Melbourne School of Government, and before then as an editor and content developer on the website Kialo (a web platform designed to improve the quality of debates through the development and refinement of innovative visualisation of argumentation tools). Melissa also has experience working in private practice, as well as in community legal centres.

Melissa holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Bachelor of Arts from Monash University, as well as a Master of Laws from Melbourne Law School. Melissa is a former Editor of the Monash University Law Review. Melissa has co-authored submissions to government inquires, including state governmental inquiries into wage theft in Queensland and Western Australia, and her research has received attention from mainstream media sources.

Thesis Title

Is it appropriate for the criminal law to be used as a part of a regulatory response to wage theft in Australia?

Thesis Summary

This thesis explores the extent to which the criminalisation of conduct should be used as part of a regulatory response to wage theft (ie the failure of employers to pay workers their minimum statutory entitlements), and in what circumstances. The terminology of wage theft is itself contested, as it suggests that the conduct inherently satisfies criminal tests, despite there being no jurisdiction in Australia which criminalises the underpayment of workers. This thesis looks at whether criminalisation should occur for deliberate or reckless conduct, underpayments more broadly, or whether criminalisation should not be adopted at all.

Theoretical and normative questions of whether current regulatory approaches and theories are amenable to securing compliance objectives in a labour law context will be considered, as well as the limitations and problems associated with a regulatory focused model, incorporating criticisms arising from criminological approaches to corporate crime. Doctrinal elements of enforcement models, including the current civil enforcement regime for underpayments, as well as enforcement and penalty regimes more broadly will be analysed to understand the purposes and the applicability of such models to the underpayment of wages.


  • Labour Law
  • Criminal Law
  • Regulatory Theory
  • Employment Law