A labour-hire company has agreed to back pay 19 overseas workers and change the way it manages its workforce to avoid legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Agri-Labour Australia, which is based in Brisbane, has signed an Enforceable Undertaking with the workplace watchdog, requiring it to back pay $50,823 to 19 nationals of Vanuatu it employed under the Seasonal Worker Program between December 2017 and April last year.
The workers were employed to work as tomato pickers on a farm near Shepparton in Victoria.
Incorrect rate meant workers underpaid
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 which stipulated that workers were to be paid based on their individual productivity.
Agri-Labour admitted it could not determine if the amounts paid adequately compensated the workers because it did not keep any records of the hours worked.
It also admitted to incorrectly deducting money from wages for wet weather gear and making higher deductions than those authorised in writing.
The conditions of the Enforceable Undertaking
Under the Enforceable Undertaking, Agri-Labour must pay pieceworkers based on their individual productivity, in addition to keeping accurate records of the hours they work.
The company must engage an external auditor to check the pay and conditions of employees meet legal requirements, and commission workplace relations training for all persons who have responsibility for human resources, recruitment, on-site management and payroll functions.
In addition to compensating its workers, with the largest individual payment of $4,591, Agri-Labour has also agreed to make a $15,000 contrition payment to the Commonwealth Government Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Fair Work Ombudsman defends Enforceable Undertaking
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the Enforceable Undertaking 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 Court-Enforceable Undertaking, Agri-Labour has committed to extensive measures aimed at sustained workplace compliance, and we will scrutinise their work practices for the next two years.”
Agreements send wrong message
Industrial relations expert Miles Heffernan from Industrial Relations Claims has previously been critical of Enforceable Undertakings.
“I think these cosy arrangements send the wrong message to employers who rip off their workers,” he said.
“If you get caught doing the wrong thing, all you have to do is pay back what you owe and promise not to do it again, and you don’t have to face any court action – it seems all too easy.
“Employers who deliberately steal their worker’s wages should face the full force of the law – and I believe they should also face criminal penalties – just like very other thief does.”
If you are not being paid your correct wages and entitlements, or if you are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our team at Industrial Relations Claims today on
1300 045 466