$1 million in wage underpayments in horticulture

The Fair Work Ombudsman has just released a report into investigations that it has been conducting into workplace relations compliance in the “Harvest Trail” or horticulture industry. The particulars are:

  • 836 investigations, involving 444 growers and 194 labour hire contractors across all states in Australia and the Northern Territory.
  • $1,022,698 in underpaid wages and entitlements was recovered for 2,503 employees
  • More than 50% of the businesses investigated were found to have breached workplace laws
  • 150 formal cautions to employers were issued along with 132 infringement notices and 13 compliance notices and 7 Enforceable Undertakings were entered into.
  • 8 employers have been prosecuted for serious alleged breaches with four actions involving labour hire contractors. Of these, 6 matters have now been finalised resulting in over $500,000 in penalties.
  • 70% of employers employed people working in  Australia on visas.

One of the questions that the Fair Work Ombudsman is now considering is that of the effect of consumer buying behaviour on compliance levels in the industry. Further research and consultation with stakeholders is planned on this subject.

This is another area where the procurement behaviour and practices of major retailers of fresh produce must come under review if such initiatives are to have any meaningful impact on producer compliance and fair payment of horticultural workers.