Sunshine Coast farms and cafes checked for alleged underpayments

Inspectors will be assessing about 20 farms and 15 eateries between Noosa and the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is making surprise inspections of farms and eateries on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast this week to check workers are getting the right pay.

Fair Work Inspectors are inspecting about 35 businesses in the region targeting growers, labour-hire companies and food outlets to assess compliance with workplace laws.

Inspectors will be assessing about 20 farms and labour-hire companies between Noosa and the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. The farms being inspected grow a range of produce including berries, bananas, avocados, citrus and ginger.

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About 15 eateries also face investigations in the Noosa Shire food precincts across the suburbs of Noosa Heads, Sunrise Beach and Noosaville. The businesses include a mix of ‘high-end’ restaurants and ‘cheap eat’ venues.

Fair Work Inspectors are speaking with business owners, labour-hire operators, managers, and employees onsite, and requesting records.

The regulator is acting after receiving intelligence regarding potential non-compliance in the region, such as alleged non-payment for time worked, unlawfully low flat rates, below-Award rates to visa holders, unpaid casual, weekend and public holiday loadings and leave entitlements, unauthorised deductions and pay slip breaches.

Businesses were selected to be assessed for compliance based on intelligence such as anonymous reports to the FWO, or because they employ visa holder workers who can be vulnerable.

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth said protecting vulnerable workers and boosting compliance in the agriculture and fast food, restaurant and café sectors were priorities for the regulator.

“Inspectors on the Sunshine Coast are busy this week visiting farms and eateries to speak with employees and hold employers to account if they are not meeting their obligations.”

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“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 in horticulture,” Ms Booth said.

“We know the agriculture and fast food, restaurant and café sectors employ many young workers and visa holders who can be vulnerable to exploitation, as they are often unaware of their workplace rights and unwilling to speak up. Migrant workers may also have limited English skills,” Ms Booth said.

“Employers who need assistance meeting their obligations should contact the FWO directly for free advice, and we also urge workers with concerns to reach out to us.”

Inspectors are on alert for low rates of pay that breach the relevant Awards (where applicable) and industrial instruments, including with regard to piece rates in the Horticulture Award; unauthorised deductions; unpaid penalty rates; record-keeping and payslip breaches; and contraventions of the Fair Work Act’s National Employment Standards including failure to provide the Casual Employment Information Statements and Fair Work Information Statement.

The horticulture inspections are part of the regulator’s national Agriculture Strategy, which began in December 2021. Under the strategy, the FWO is targeting more than 350 businesses in 15 ‘hot spot’ regions over two and a half years where there are identified high risks of non-compliance. Industry sectors being investigated include viticulture, horticulture, meat processing and agriculture.

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