After failing to correctly compensate tomato pickers on a farm near Shepparton, a labour hire company has been forced to change the way it pays its workforce, in the wake of a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation.
Agri Labour Australia Pty Ltd, based in Brisbane, has signed a court-enforceable undertaking requiring it to pay $50,823 to 19 nationals of Vanuatu it employed under the Seasonal Worker Programme between December 2017 and April last year.
Fair Work inspectors found that Agri Labour was paying some workers a group piecework rate, based around a team’s quantity picked, despite the company’s enterprise agreement and piecework agreements providing for workers to be paid based on their individual productivity.
Agri Labour admitted that it could not determine if the amounts paid sufficiently compensated the workers as no records were kept of actual hours worked.
It also admitted to incorrectly deducting money from wages for wet weather gear and making higher deductions than those authorised in writing.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said that the EU sent a clear message to horticultural employers across the country to get piecework agreements right.
“Improving compliance across the horticulture industry is a priority for the Fair Work Ombudsman after our Harvest Trail Inquiry found widespread breaches of the Fair Work Act,” Ms Parker said.
“All horticultural businesses must be aware of how to lawfully pay their workers and, if using piece rates, ensure workers are paid in accordance with piecework agreements. We also advise that employers should keep accurate records of hours worked.
“Under the EU, Agri Labour has committed to extensive measures aimed at sustained workplace compliance, and we will scrutinise their work practices for the next two years.”
Ms Parker said that migrant workers, in line with an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs, can seek assistance without the risk of their visa being cancelled.
Under the EU, Agri-Labour must pay piece workers based on individual productivity, keep a record of hours worked, engage an external professional to complete pay and conditions audits, and commission workplace relations training.
It must also ensure the piece rates are sufficient to allow an average, competent employee to earn 15 per cent more than the minimum hourly rates provided by the enterprise agreement.
In addition to compensating its workers, Agri Labour will make a $15,000 contrition payment to the Commonwealth Government Consolidated Revenue Fund.
The FWO released its Harvest Trail Inquiry report last year and is now working with stakeholders to implement the recommendations.
To learn more, employers and employees can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call 13 13 94.