South-West WA farms checked for underpayments
The Fair Work Ombudsman has made surprise inspections of agriculture businesses around Western Australia’s Bunbury region to check workers are getting the right pay.
About 20 farms and labour companies around Manjimup and Donnybrook are being assessed by inspectors this week.
Businesses were selected to be assessed for compliance with workplace laws based on intelligence such as anonymous reports indicating potential underpayments of agriculture workers, or because they employed visa holder workers who can be vulnerable.
The farms inspected grow a range of produce including apples, pears, avocadoes, kiwi fruit, potatoes and stone fruit. Some raise beef cattle.
Information provided to the FWO has raised concerns about potential non-payment of overtime, including when working 11 hours per day; non-payment of public holiday rates; unpaid time in workers’ final pay and inadequate breaks among some businesses.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said continuing to boost compliance among agriculture sector employers remained a priority for the agency.
“Inspectors are out in the field to hold employers to account if they are not meeting their obligations. We will take enforcement action where appropriate. We also act to ensure employers understand their legal responsibilities, including record-keeping and the minimum wage guarantee for pieceworkers,” Ms Parker said.
“The agriculture sector employs a significant number of migrant workers, including backpackers, who can be vulnerable to exploitation as they may have limited English skills, or be unaware of their rights or unwilling to raise concerns with their bosses.”
“Employers who need assistance meeting their obligations should contact the FWO directly for free advice. We also urge workers with concerns about their wages and entitlements to reach out to us. They can report anonymously if they prefer,” Ms Parker said.
Inspectors are speaking with growers, labour hire operators, managers and employees on the ground, and are requesting records. They are on alert for low rates of pay that breach the Horticulture Award (where applicable), including with regard to piece rates; record-keeping and payslip breaches; and contraventions of the Fair Work Act’s National Employment Standards including failure to provide the Fair Work Information Statement.
The investigations are part of the regulator’s Agriculture Strategy, which began in December 2021. Under the strategy, the FWO will target more than 300 businesses in 15 ‘hot spot’ regions over two years where there are identified high risks of non-compliance. Industry sectors being investigated include viticulture, horticulture, meat processing and agriculture.
Where breaches warrant court action, a court can order penalties of up to $16,500 per contravention for an individual and $82,500 per contravention for companies. Maximum penalties are 10-times higher if a court determines breaches were serious contraventions under the Fair Work Act.
The FWO’s Horticulture Showcase has self-audit tools, templates for employers hiring pieceworkers and a range of resources for migrant workers, including in more than 30 languages. The Showcase includes information on the protections for visa holders.
Employers and employees can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance about their rights and obligations in the workplace. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.