Shepparton farms checked for alleged migrant underpayments

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.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is making surprise inspections of agriculture businesses around northern Victoria’s Shepparton region to check workers are getting the right pay.

Fair Work Inspectors are on the ground this week visiting about 20 farms, orchards and vineyards. The inspected farms grow a range of produce including apples, pears, stone fruits, citrus and tomatoes. Viticulture businesses are also being inspected.

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth said continuing to boost compliance among agriculture sector employers remained a priority for the agency.

“These inspections are focused on holding employers to account if they are not meeting their obligations. We will take enforcement action where appropriate. We also act to help employers understand their legal responsibilities, including record-keeping – the bedrock of compliance – and the minimum wage guarantee for pieceworkers.”

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Ms Booth added:

“This 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.”

Businesses were selected to be assessed for compliance with workplace laws based on intelligence such as anonymous reports indicating potential worker underpayments in the region’s agriculture sector, or because they employ visa holder workers who can be vulnerable.

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 or the Wine Industry Award (where applicable), including with regard to piece rates; unauthorised deductions from wages; potential non-payment of overtime and inadequate breaks; payslip and record-keeping breaches and more.

Ms Booth observed:

“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.

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The inspections are part of the regulator’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 companies.

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.

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