Harvest Trail Inquiry recovers $1 million for workers

A Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) Inquiry into workplaces along Australia’s Harvest Trail has found widespread non-compliance, with inspectors recovering more than $1 million in unpaid wages for over 2,500 workers.

Inspectors investigated 638 businesses connected with the harvesting of various crops with growers and labour hire contractors ranging from small family-run businesses, large scale family-run farms operating across multiple states, to big companies with significant market share.

The FWO 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.

The FWO took court action against eight employers for serious alleged breaches of the Fair Work Acts. 

Image: Pixabay (CC)

Moreover, the inquiry found that almost 70 per cent of harvest trail businesses employed visa holders with the most common migrant worker holding working holiday visas (aged 18-31 years old).

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said: 

“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.”

Consumers have also expressed their concerns about farm workers conditions with over 80 percent saying they would avoid buying produce if they knew workers had been underpaid or provided poor working conditions.

The Fair Work Ombudsman will establish a stakeholder reference group to consider crucial next steps to implement the recommendations outlined in the inquiry report and help build a culture of compliance.  

Source:  FWO media release (22 November 2018)