Surprise inspections on 20 farms to curb potential visa worker underpayments and exploitation

"It is important visa holders know that they have the same workplace rights as all other workers.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman has made surprise inspections of horticulture businesses around Queensland’s Lockyer Valley region to check workers are getting the right pay.

Fair Work Inspectors are on the ground at Gatton this week to assess about 20 farms and labour-hire companies.

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

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The farms inspected grow a range of produce including broccoli, lettuce, shallots, corn and pumpkin.

The FWO has received intelligence regarding potential non-compliance in the region, such as alleged non-payment for time worked; unlawfully low flat rates, underpaid minimum rates, below-Award rates to visa holders, unpaid casual, weekend and public holiday loadings, unauthorised deductions and pay slip breaches.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Kristen Hannah said the agency was committed to boosting compliance among agriculture sector employers.

“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 Hannah said.

“The agriculture sector employs a significant number of migrant workers who can be vulnerable to exploitation as they may have limited English skills, or be unaware of their rights or unwilling to raise concerns. It is important visa holders know that 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. They can report anonymously if they prefer.”

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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 national Agriculture Strategy, which began in December 2021. Under the strategy, the FWO is targeting more than 300 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.

Inspectors can issue Infringement Notices (fines) of up to $1,878 for an individual or $9,390 for a company for breaches of payslip and record-keeping obligations.

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. Maximum penalties are 10-times higher if a court determines breaches were serious contraventions under the Fair Work Act.

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