Farms in Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula checked for underpayments

19 April 2024

The Fair Work Ombudsman has been conducting surprise inspections of agriculture businesses in the outer Melbourne regions of Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley to check workers are getting the right pay.

Fair Work Inspectors have been on the ground visiting about 20 agriculture businesses, such as farms, vineyards and labour hire operators, for just over a week.

The FWO has been conducting the surprise inspections based on intelligence, such as anonymous reports, which indicates some workers in the areas’ agriculture sector may be getting underpaid, or because they employ visa holders who can be vulnerable.

Farms, orchards and vineyards in the areas employ (often through labour hire operators) many visa workers, who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to a lack of knowledge of workplace laws or an unwillingness to speak up.

Inspectors spoke with growers, labour hire operators, managers and employees on the ground, and requested employment records and payslips that allow them to check compliance with workplace laws.

Inspectors have been on alert for low rates of pay that breach the Horticulture, Pastoral or the Wine Industry Award (where applicable), including pay relating to piece rates; unauthorised deductions from wages; potential non-payment of overtime and inadequate breaks; payslip and record-keeping breaches; and more.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said continuing to boost compliance among agriculture sector employers remained a priority for the agency.

“Where our intelligence says there is a high risk of non-compliance with workplace laws, we proactively conduct audits to ensure workers are receiving their lawful entitlements,” Mr Campbell said.

“We have been working constructively with agriculture employers and employees in the Mornington Peninsula and the Yarra Valley regions to check compliance rates. This includes assisting employers understand their legal responsibilities, such as proper record-keeping – the bedrock of compliance – and the minimum wage guarantee for pieceworkers.”

“Where we uncover any non-compliance from these inspections, we will ensure workers receive the entitlements owed to them. This can include taking enforcement action where appropriate.”

“The agriculture sector commonly employs vulnerable workers such as backpackers and other migrants, who may have limited English skills, be unaware of their rights, or be unwilling to speak up. Visa holders should remember they have the same workplace rights as all other workers.”

“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, including via an anonymous report if they prefer.”

Investigations continue and results will be published at a later date.

The inspections are part of the FWO’s Agriculture Strategy, which began in December 2021. Under the strategy, the FWO is targeting more than 450 businesses in 15 ‘hot spot’ regions of Australia where there are identified high risks of non-compliance.

Where breaches warrant court action, a court can order penalties of up to $18,780 per contravention for an individual and $93,900 per contravention for small businesses. Companies that are not small businesses could face penalties of up to $469,500 per contravention for certain breaches. Maximum penalties are 10-times higher if a court determines breaches were serious contraventions under the Fair Work Act.

The FWO’s website provides information on the recent Closing Loopholes law changes, including the increased penalties for employers who breach laws.

The FWO’s Horticulture Showcase has self-audit tools, a piecework arrangements employer checklist, a piecework record template, and resources for migrant workers.

Employers and employees can visit 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. Issues can also be reported online anonymously, including in languages other than English.

Employees can also seek information from their union, if they are a member, and from their employer.

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Media inquiries:

Stephanie, 0437 542 682,