Australia’s workplace watchdog has revealed the results of its crackdown on Australia’s fruit and vegetable growers, finding more than 50% of businesses audited were non-compliant with the country’s Fair Work Act.
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s (FWO) Harvest Trail Inquiry investigated nearly 650 businesses involved with the harvesting of various crops, including labour hire companies, and recovered more than $1 million in wages for over 2,500 affected workers.
Labelling the non-compliance “widespread” and at times deliberate, the FWO said in a statement many of the businesses were found to be significantly underpaying workers, falsifying records, deliberately withholding payslips, and making unauthorised deductions.
Over 130 infringement notices were issued throughout the inquiry, along with 13 compliance notices. The FWO also entered into seven enforceable undertakings with companies who were found to be non-compliant.
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The FWO also took court action against eight of the companies, recovering more than $500,000 in penalties.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman visited hundreds of horticulture businesses and found over half did not comply with workplace laws. Our inquiry highlighted unacceptable practices of underpaying workers in one of Australia’s largest rural industries,” Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said in a statement.
“Growers rely heavily on migrant workers to pick, pack and process crops, and these workers can be particularly vulnerable. Migrant workers may not seek help because of language and cultural barriers, concerns about visa status, or because they are unaware of their workplace rights.”
“All workers in Australia have the same rights and protections at work, regardless of citizenship or visa status. During this inquiry, we assisted hundreds of migrant workers to recover their pay, and any workers with concerns should contact us.”
In the wake of the inquiry, the FWO says it intends to establish a stakeholder reference group to further develop and promote a “culture of compliance” in Australia’s horticulture industry. The watchdog also surveyed consumers and discovered over 80 percent said they would avoid buying produce if they knew workers had been underpaid.