Harvest Trail project turns to WA wine industry

25 February 2015

Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors are in Western Australia’s Margaret River wine region this week as part of an ongoing focus on the entitlements of seasonal workers

The Agency’s Regional Services Team is conducting the site visits to randomly selected properties as part of its three-year Harvest Trail project.

Fair Work inspectors will speak to growers and labour hire contractors about their obligations under federal workplace laws and encourage any employees with concerns to come forward.

They will also visit the Great Southern and Swan Valley regions in March and April, checking up to 40 vineyards across the three regions.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says improving awareness of workplace laws is the main reason for the visits, but any non-compliance issues will need to be addressed.

“We can tell a lot about an employer’s level of compliance by talking to them and their workers, but we’ll look at time-and-wages records if we need to get a clearer picture,” Ms James said.

Ensuring that employers are aware of their obligation to have written agreements in place for workers paid piece rates is a key focus of the Harvest Trail program.

“This is a really important issue. In the absence of a written piece rate agreement, workers are required to be paid hourly pay rates,” Ms James said.

The preference of Fair Work inspectors will be to assist employers to voluntarily rectify any issues by agreement. However, in cases of serious, deliberate or repeated contraventions, or if employers are not willing to co-operate, they may consider enforcement action.

Inspectors will advise employers about the range of free resources available on our Harvest trail campaign page to assist them to comply with workplace laws.

Ms James says many farms rely heavily on labour from overseas workers, in particular working holiday makers and employees from a non-English speaking background who may not be fully aware of their workplace rights.

In August last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced a year-long review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa after receiving allegations that some unscrupulous operators were exploiting backpackers looking to extend their stay by working in regional areas for up to 88 days.

“We are conscious many fruit pickers are young and overseas workers who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their entitlements or reluctant to complain, so it’s important that we are pro-active about ensuring they are paid correctly,” Ms James said.

Employers and workers seeking assistance can visit the website or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

Follow Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James on Twitter @NatJamesFWO external-icon.png, the Fair Work Ombudsman @fairwork_gov_au External link icon or find us on Facebook www.facebook.com/fairwork.gov.au External link icon.

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