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Operator Penalised for Exploiting Overseas Backpackers

The operator underpaid 12 of his employees a total of $35,630 over a two-month period in 2015.
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Operator Penalised for Exploiting Overseas Backpackers

Operator Penalised for Exploiting Overseas Backpackers

11 January 2018

This article originally appeared on Fair Work.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has secured a $25,412 penalty in Court against an operator who exploited overseas workers on mango farms near Darwin.

Fair Work inspectors investigated the operations following receiving underpayment complaints from workers. The operator admitted to underpaying 12 of his employees a total of $35,630 over a two-month period in 2015.

With all underpayments remaining outstanding, the Court also ordered the operator to back-pay the workers in full within 30 days.

Inspectors found that owner had engaged 12 workers to perform between four days and just under eight weeks of picking, weeding and pruning work on mango farms from September to November, 2015. Four of the workers were paid nothing, while paying others amounts ranging from $500 to $1000 – or the equivalent of between $2.68 and $4.77 an hour.

Most of the exploited workers, aged as young as 19, were backpackers in Australia on 417 working holiday visas from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Taiwan. They were hired after they applied to job advertisements online or approached the owner for work and most camped on the mango farms.

Many were keen to earn money to support their travels and become eligible to apply for a second year on their 417 visas by satisfying the requirement to undertake 88 days’ specified paid work in a designated regional area and in certain industries in their first year. 

As casual employees, under the Horticulture Award 2010 at the time they were entitled to be paid minimum hourly rates ranging from $19.45 to $21.61.

Individual underpayments range from $648 to $5119.

The operator failed to issue the backpackers with pay slips, leaving them with no proof of completing their work therefore hindering their ability to apply for a second year on their 417 visas.

In addition, the operator contravened sham contracting laws by telling two of the employees they were independent contractors.

The contraventions occurred despite Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors having educated him about minimum Award rates in October 2015 when they visited mango farms as part of the Agency’s national Harvest Trail Inquiry.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says exploitation of vulnerable workers on Australian farms is completely unacceptable conduct.

“This type of appalling treatment of overseas workers on Australian farms is extremely concerning and the outcome of this matter should send a message to rogue operators that their actions have serious consequences,” Ms James said.

Ms James says the Fair Work Ombudsman has dedicated significant resources to addressing the exploitation of vulnerable workers on Australian farms.

Ms James says it is important for any 417 visa holders who take up employment in Australia to establish from the outset who their official employer is and that they will be paid lawful minimum rates and issued with pay slips.

Ms James says employers should be aware that the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 has now come into effect, increasing the maximum penalties for conduct including deliberate exploitation of workers.

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