The Fair Work Ombudsman has joined forces with Queensland Workplace Health and Safety and the Queensland police to lead a multi-agency compliance operation targeting worker exploitation in the Lockyer Valley – a region known as Queensland’s salad bowl whose largest workforce is those involved in agricultural labour.
The operation began following a tip-off from within the farming industry.
The allegations included potential underpayment of wages; workers being provided unsafe and very poor accommodation, unsafe drinking water and unregistered transport; and workers being charged job-find fees.
In response, a twelve-person team of Fair Work inspectors, Work Health and Safety inspectors and police conducted unannounced visits to four vegetable farms over two days.
Fair Work inspectors are auditing the farms’ employment records for July and August 2017 to check compliance with the Fair Work Act 2009 and Horticulture Award 2010.
As a result of the operation, the Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced a number of investigations into potential breaches by several contractors.
Issues outside the Fair Work Ombudsman’s jurisdiction are being dealt with by the relevant regulators.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said it was encouraging to see businesses taking a proactive interest in ensuring compliance within the horticulture sector.
“The fact that the industry itself is willing to bring forward allegations of suspected non-compliance is a positive sign,” James said. “Over a number of years my agency has undertaken activities aimed at shining a light on the dodgy labour practices and it is pleasing to see the industry take steps to stamp out these insidious practices.
“It is blatantly unfair for workers and it is unfair for responsible operators that are doing the right thing to have to compete with those who base their business models on unlawful activities.
“We are pleased to work alongside Queensland Workplace Health and Safety and the Queensland police in this operation to tackle the serious issues in this sector. It sends a strong message to crooked operators that we are on the case and will use our powers to enforce the law and disrupt their unlawful activities.”
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail Inquiry, due to report its findings this year, is focusing on the horticulture and viticulture sectors nationally in response to ongoing requests for assistance from employees in the sector, persistent underpayments and confusion among growers and labour-hire contractors about their workplace obligations.
James says while employers must comply with their workplace obligations, it was important for workers to understand their workplace rights and know where to go to seek help.
“I strongly encourage all workers engaged in the sector to check out the Fair Work Ombudsman’s top tips for backpackers, seasonal workers and growers online,” James said.