Fair Work Ombudsman focuses on Young cherry farms

31 October 2013

Fair Work Inspectors will meet with Young cherry growers to explain their obligations under workplace law and help them ensure they are compliant.

Inspectors will discuss workplace obligations, including common issues found in the industry, such as underpayment of workers, piece rates and piece rate agreements, and provide information about tools and resources at fairwork.gov.au/horticulture.

Inspectors will also be conducting compliance checks on employers in the area during the cherry harvest.

Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James, said the activity was prompted by the seasonal harvest sector continuing to generate complaints from pickers and other seasonal workers, many of which are substantiated, with underpayment of wages the main issue.

"The fruit picking sector attracts many foreign workers, particularly foreign backpackers doing the required three-month regional stint to secure a second 12-month working holiday maker visa. These workers can be vulnerable to underpayment of wages as they're often not aware of what their entitlements are," Ms James said.

"We see many employers paying piece work rates but failing to have a written piece work agreement in place. It is a requirement that a written agreement is in place and that it sets out clearly rates to be paid. Piece rates are also designed to help workers achieve above-Award rates."

Over the past three years about 400 complaints in the fruit picking sector have been investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman and more than $225,000 was recovered for 139 workers.

Recently, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered $7,500 for 100 strawberry pickers, most of whom were working holiday makers in Caboolture on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

"Part of the role of the Fair Work Ombudsman is to help employers get it right, and that's what we'll be doing when we meet with employers this week - we'll be working with them to ensure they understand their obligations," Ms James said.

"Fair Work Inspectors will return later to the district during the harvest to conduct checks on employers."

The Young information session will take place at the Young Services Club at 4pm on Thursday, 31 October and employers can simply turn up on the day without pre-registering.

Similar sessions will be held in cherry harvest regions across New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania over the next few months.

Employers and employees can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94 or, if a translator is required, on 13 14 50 or visit fairwork.gov.au/horticulture, where there is information specifically on seasonal harvest work.

Media inquiries:

Penny Rowe, Media & Stakeholder Relations
0457 924 146

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