With harvest season well under way Riverina growers have been reminded to be vigilant when engaging workers from labour-hire operators in an effort to prevent the exploitation of young and vulnerable backpackers.
In a stern warning to growers, hostel owners and labour hire contractors on wage rates Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James has reminded horticulture businesses to make themselves aware of the minimum pay rates for casual pickers under the Horticulture Award.
Under the Award, workers engaged on piece rates must be provided with a written piecework agreement set at a rate allowing an average competent worker to pick enough to earn 15 per cent above the hourly minimum rate.
Ms James said while the majority of people do the right thing, there were some dodgy labour-hire operators who set piece rates so low it was not possible for workers to pick or pack enough fruit to earn the minimum hourly rate.
“As one can reasonably assume the labour hire provider is taking a cut of the agreement with the grower, the question growers need to ask is ‘how much are the workers receiving?” she said.
Ms James said the deliberate exploitation of young, vulnerable backpackers, many of who are from non-English speaking backgrounds with little understanding of their rights, was totally unacceptable.
Ms James said growers and hostel operators could be held liable as an accessory under the Fair Work Act if they knowingly entered into sub-standard, illegal agreements, warning them to contact the agency in the event they received offers of labour at suspiciously low rates.
“If growers are approached by a labour-hire provider with rates that seem to be too good to be true, they probably are,” she said.
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