Fair work inspectors 'check up' on strawberry farms
FAIR Work Ombudsman inspectors will return to Caboolture strawberry farms this week for further checks on payments to seasonal workers.
The follow-up visits follow compliance checks late last year which found more than 150 pickers and packers had been underpaid over $134,000.
Tonight, the Fair Work Ombudsman will run a "pop-up" information booth to answer questions from seasonal workers about their rights and entitlements.
The booth will operate from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm on Dickson Road, Caboolture. Inspectors will also hand out fact sheets on minimum entitlements published in various languages.
Last year, Fair Work inspectors visiting Caboolture identified workplace contraventions such as employers failing to make written agreements with workers paid piece-rates, businesses failing to keep proper time-and-wages records and employers making unlawful deductions from employee wages.
Three businesses were issued with Infringement Notices (on-the-spot fines) and 11 employers received Letters of Caution regarding their workplace breaches.
This week, Fair Work inspectors will make site visits to about a dozen properties, including farms previously audited, and encourage any workers with concerns about their workplace rights being compromised to come forward.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the follow-up activity aims to shed light on whether or not compliance has improved since auditing last August and September.
"Previously, our inspectors provided employers with the information and advice they needed to meet their obligations under workplace law, particularly in relation to payments to seasonal workers," she said.
"We are returning to Caboolture to ensure that local employers have acted on the information provided and are meeting their obligations.
"We also hope to understand why any non-compliance issues might be continuing, and this knowledge will help us better direct our education and compliance activities in the future."
Where businesses are found to be non-compliant, the first preference of inspectors will be to assist employers to correct the issues by agreement and back-pay any underpaid employees.
However, they will consider enforcement measures in cases of serious non-compliance, such as issuing Infringement Notices of up to $2550.
In the event of a matter being so serious it warrants legal action, penalties of up to $51,000 per breach are applicable to companies and $10,200 to individuals.
Ms James says checking that employers are complying with their obligation to have written agreements in place for workers paid piece-rates will be a key focus of the program.
"This is a really important issue. In the absence of a piece-work agreement workers are required to be paid hourly rates of pay according to the Horticulture Award 2010," she said.
Ms James says seasonal workers can be vulnerable to exploitation, or inadvertent underpayments, because they are often not aware of what they should be receiving, or where to turn for advice.
As well as returning to Caboolture, the Fair Work Ombudsman will run an online campaign over the next four weeks to educate seasonal workers about their entitlements, with dedicated information on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fairwork.gov.au.
Over the next few years the Fair Work Ombudsman will visit dozens of fruit and vegetable farms throughout the country as part of the Harvest Trail and its focus on the entitlements of seasonal workers.
Any employer or employee seeking information or advice about workplace laws is encouraged to get in touch with the Fair Work Ombudsman via the website www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.
Follow Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James on Twitter @NatJamesFWO, the Fair Work Ombudsman @fairwork_gov_au or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fairwork.gov.au