A Judge has described wage theft by the operators of a fruit picking business as “deliberate and conscious” – penalising them a total of $144,000.
Zucco Farming Pty Ltd, which operates a stone fruit farm near Swan Hill was hit with a $120,000 penalty, while company director Chris Zucco was fined a further $24,000.
Workers paid illegal flat rates
The workers they ripped off were from Malaysia on bridging visas and worked on the farm picking fruit, pruning, packing and cleaning and were paid flat illegal rates of between $15.41 and $16.77 an hour.
Both were entitled to be paid $21.61 for ordinary hours, and $38.90 per hour for public holiday work.
When one of them asked Mr Zucco why their pay slips stated a a rate of $21 an hour, Mr Zucco replied, “I am not paying you $21… I do that just for my book work.”
Mr Zucco and his company also provided false records to inspectors that understated the number of hours worked by the employees and overstated how much money they were paid.
‘Deliberate and conscious decision to underpay the employees’
In the Federal Circuit Court, Judge Anthony Kelly found that Mr Zucco and Zucco Farming had “made deliberate and conscious decisions to underpay the employees” and had “persistently attempted to deceive the FWO”.
“They deliberately sought to mislead the FWO, both before and after the proceeding had commenced,” Judge Kelly said.
“The nature of the contraventions and the circumstances in which they were committed are significant as evidencing the serious exploitation of employees and a deliberate falsification of records,” Judge Kelly said.
Judge Kelly said that making declarations of contraventions would “provide due warning” of the consequences for such conduct.
“I accept that it is necessary that the penalty imposed reflects the strong need for general deterrence in circumstances where employers may be tempted to prey on the vulnerability of employees, whether by reason of their migratory status or lack of knowledge of their legal entitlements,” Judge Kelly said.
Penalties don’t work
Industrial relations advocate Miles Heffernan from WAGETHEFT.net.au said monetary penalties are not working as a deterrent.
“Wage theft is rife in so many industries, including horticulture, hospitality, fast food and retail, so clearly these monetary fines are not working – which is why we have been advocating for the government to make wage theft a criminal offence,” he said.
“Let’s start locking up the likes of Mr Zucco and see how many bosses all of a sudden figure out how to properly pay their workers.
“It’s also time the budget of the regulator – the Fair Work Ombudsman – was increased dramatically so it can get more inspectors on the beat, and prosecute more cases.”
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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