Fair Work audits Burnett businesses
INSPECTORS from the Fair Work Ombudsman audited businesses in Mundubbera last week.
The audits were part of a wider investigation into farms, labour hire contractors, and accommodation providers in the Wide Bay region, as Fair Work aims to stop businesses from taking advantage of their employees.
Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell said the audits were a key element of the agency's Horticulture Strategy designed to build a culture of compliance in the horticulture industry.
"Following on from the Harvest Trail Inquiry, our inspectors are back on the ground to check employers are complying with their legal obligations under the Fair Work Act, the Horticulture Award and enterprise agreements,” Mr Campbell said.
"We know the region is attractive to visa holders who can be vulnerable in the workplace due to concerns about their visa status or limited knowledge of workplace laws.
"If we find non-compliance in the businesses we audit, we will ensure affected employees receive the wages and entitlements owed to them.
"Where serious or repeat breaches are found, we will consider further enforcement action.”
While unable to provide any information regarding who was subjected to checks by the workplace regulator, a spokesman for the Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed in an email to the Times that four businesses in Mundubbera had been audited.
In a statement, the watchdog said the audits were "informed by a range of sources, including previous compliance history with the Fair Work Ombudsman, anonymous reports and external intelligence”.
The Harvest Trail Inquiry, which the Ombudsman handed down its report on last year, found that breaches of workplace law were identified in 75 per cent of investigations in the Wide Bay, which was well above the inquiry average of 55 per cent.
Steve Baker, the Queensland Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, which represents workers in the agricultural industry, said employees were fearful to speak out due to the insecure nature of their employment.
"We have trouble policing the industry because the industry provides fairly insecure employment to people employed in the industry, they live in fear of losing their employment, and if they join a union or speak out against underpayments, or any breaches of the award or the act, they usually end up dismissed, which puts them in a fairly precarious position” he said.
Mr Baker said he was "appalled” by the findings of wrongdoing against 75 per cent Wide Bay businesses audited as part of the Harvest Trail Inquiry, and that some employers were taking advantage of overseas workers.
"I think it's absolutely appalling that the low-paid workers in this industry are being exploited to that extent, but by the same token it's not surprising either as the industry is full of people employed on 457-style visas, they come from overseas countries and have limited English, and as a consequence they don't understand their rights, they're not advised of their rights, they don't know who to turn to for help, and there's the risk of if they join a union or speak out that they'll be sacked,” he said.
"They're being exploited, and I think there's more that needs to be done to protect these people from that,” he added.