More than $170k penalties in pay slip breaches; 110 investigations continue against agriculture farms

Site inspections target employers in 15 ‘hot spot’ regions where FWO intelligence suggests non-compliance may be common.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is urging agriculture sector employers to prioritise compliance as total fines for pay slip and record-keeping breaches exceed $170,000 nationally.

The regulator has investigated 330 businesses in regional hot spots across Australia since its agriculture strategy began in December 2021.

Site inspections target employers in 15 ‘hot spot’ regions where FWO intelligence suggests non-compliance may be common. The most recently inspected regions are Queensland’s Whitsunday Coast and Stanthorpe, Adelaide and Adelaide Hills, and South West WA.

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Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the regulator’s agriculture strategy had highlighted the importance of employers following record-keeping and pay slip laws.

“Record-keeping is a bedrock of meeting workplace laws,” Ms Parker said. “Breaches related to record-keeping can indicate increased risks of underpaying, whether intentionally or not.”

Under the agriculture strategy, Fair Work Inspectors have issued 64 Infringement Notices for pay slip and record-keeping breaches, with employers fined a total of $176,028. Fifty-five of the Infringement Notices were issued to labour hire entities and nine to growers.

Ms Parker said Inspectors had consistently found higher levels of non-compliance in relation to labour hire companies, as opposed to growers who directly engage workers.

“It’s a red flag if workers can’t identify their employer and are paid cash-in-hand, without pay slips, by individuals seemingly unrelated to the apparent employing entity. This is prevalent in multi-level supply chains where we consistently find wrongdoing.”

Inspectors have also issued 18 Compliance Notices – ten for underpayments and eight for non-monetary breaches. They issued nine of the Compliance Notices to labour hire entities and nine to growers.

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Five were handed out on-the-spot during recent site inspections – three in South West WA’s Manjimup-Donnybrook region and two in Stanthorpe – to employers who had failed to provide new workers with the required information statements.

“Failing to hand out the Fair Work Information Statement or Casual Employment Statement to new workers is no trivial matter,” Ms Parker said. “We expect employers to meet this legal obligation, which helps to keep their hard-working employees informed.”

“With unannounced hot spot inspections continuing this year and next, growers and labour hire entities are on notice. They may get a visit from Fair Work Inspectors very soon – and we will take enforcement action where appropriate.”

Results summary, so far – Whitsunday Coast, Adelaide and Adelaide Hills regions, South West WA and Stanthorpe

On the Whitsunday Coast, in November and December last year, inspectors looked into 23 businesses. Infringement notices have so far totalled $3,774 and 13 investigations remain on foot.

In Adelaide and Adelaide Hills, where inspectors paid a visit in December and came back in March, 34 businesses were investigated. There have been $19,794 in Infringement Notices issued, and 27 investigations are ongoing.

February’s South-West WA inspections led to investigations into 20 businesses in the Bunbury region. Infringement notices totalling $5,500 were issued, along with four Compliance Notices to growers for failing to provide the required information statements. There are ongoing investigations into eight businesses.

Fair Work Inspectors checked 22 businesses in Stanthorpe, Queensland, in March. They have so far issued two Compliance Notices to growers over failing to provide the required information statements. Investigations are ongoing.

Nationally, 110 investigations under the Agriculture Strategy are continuing.

Pieceworker-related compliance under the Horticulture Award

Ms Parker said many ongoing investigations related to the pieceworkers minimum wage guarantee changes.

“During our inspections we’ve had growers show us their sophisticated software that tracks productivity and ensures Horticulture Award compliance. However, not all employers are meeting their obligations and record-keeping breaches are a key part of that.”

From the 64 INs issued, 13 have related to failures to make and keep the required records, including hours worked, for pieceworkers since the April 2022 changes to pieceworkers laws. These have totalled $49,542 in fines for 11 labour hire companies and two growers.

So far, pieceworker-related contraventions have also led to two Compliance Notices being issued.

Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme investigations

The Fair Work Ombudsman also has responsibility to enforce wages and entitlements under the PALM Scheme, and has commenced 48 investigations this financial year. There have been 37 concluded investigations into PALM Scheme employers, including some that began the prior year.

In response to breaches, the FWO has issued seven Compliance Notices. Recoveries in 2022-23 have totalled $25,732 for 252 employees, each as a result of Compliance Notices.

Fair Work Inspectors regularly present on-arrival briefings to new and returning recruits under the PALM Scheme that cover workplace entitlements in Australia.

Late last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman commenced legal action against a Queensland labour-hire company alleging it underpaid 87 workers up to May 2020. The case is ongoing.