More than $1 million in stolen wages have been recovered for 2,500 workers after a major investigation uncovered widespread non-compliance with workplace laws on fruit and vegetable farms.
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail Inquiry involved 638 investigations over the past five years, targeting 444 growers and 194 labour hire contractors connected with the harvesting of various crops including citrus, grapes, strawberries, cherries, mushrooms, apples and tomatoes.
More than $500,000 in penalties
The FWO took court action against eight employers for serious breaches of the Fair Work Act – six of those matters have now been finalised resulting in over $500,000 in penalties.
Fair Work Inspectors also issued 150 formal cautions to employers, 132 infringement notices and 13 compliance notices for breaches of workplace laws during the inquiry, and entered into seven Enforceable Undertakings.
Inspectors found over half of these businesses breached workplace laws, including deliberate and significant underpayments of base pay rates, falsification of records, deliberate withholding of payslips, non-payments and unauthorised deductions.
Migrant workers ‘ripe’ for exploitation
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from WAGETHEFT.net.au said migrant workers were commonly employed in the fruit and vegetable picking industry.
“Migrant workers are vulnerable workers, because they often have language barriers and many do not understand their workplace rights – so that makes them ripe for exploitation,” he said.
“I hope that these investigations by the FWO will put employers on notice that they should not rip off workers – but until we see wage theft made a criminal offence, I fear that widespread wage theft will continue in the fruit and vegetable picking industry.”
Ombudsman vows to continue to monitor harvest trail
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker says her agency will continue to monitor harvest trail employers, and prioritise any requests for assistance from workers.
“Growers and labour hire operators can expect to face further action if they do not comply with Australia’s workplace laws,” Ms Parker said.
If you have not received your proper wages and entitlements, or are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our specialist team at WAGETHEFT.net.au on
1300 1 THEFT (1300 184 338)
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