The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is the Commonwealth Regulator that promotes and enforces minimum wages and conditions for employees.
Agribusiness has long been an area of focus for the FWO. Reasons for this include:
- the labour requirements in agribusiness are inherently seasonal, which attract employees who may only work seasonally or casually
- for a 417 holiday working visa to be approved for a second year, the worker must work in a regional area for 88 days, in a limited range of industries (one of which is plant and animal cultivation).
Agribusiness employers should be aware that they may be affected by three separate monitoring and compliance projects which the FWO is currently undertaking.
Review of Working Holiday workers
On 4 August 2014, the FWO announced its Overseas Workers Team (OWT) will conduct a review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers who hold the 417 Working Holiday Visa. This will involve the FWO conducting field visits in the coming months.
The Harvest Trail project is conducted by regional FWO offices and will run for three years. Inspectors will visit farms in regional areas and correspond with stakeholders to collect information. FWO inspectors made unannounced visits to apple and pear orchards in regional New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia earlier this year.
National Fruit and Vegetable Picking Campaign
In July 2014, the FWO commenced a national campaign specifically targeting fruit and vegetable picking.
The teams involved with this campaign operate differently to the regional inspectorate in the Harvest Trail project.
What should agribusiness employers do to protect themselves?
The implication of these three projects for agribusiness employers is a need to comply with both employment and migration legislation. As an agribusiness employer, you should ensure that:
- all employment, leave and payroll records are up-to-date
- you are compliant with the minimum wages and conditions in the Fair Work Act 2009 and relevant award (such as the Horticulture Award 2010 and the Pastoral Award 2010)
- your workers have appropriate work rights (if they are not Australian citizens or permanent residents).
Businesses that are non-compliant may be issued with infringement notices or, in more serious cases, prosecution in the Federal Circuit Court where maximum penalties of $51,000 (per breach) for companies and $10,200 (per breach) for individuals apply under the Fair Work Act 2009.
Penalties also apply under the Migration Act 1958 where employers have engaged overseas workers who do not an appropriate visa, or engage in work which is contrary to their visa conditions.
Charles Power, Partner
T: +61 3 9321 9942
Alistair Salmon, Partner
T +61 2 8083 0467
Stephen Trew, Partner
T: +61 2 8083 0439
Ron Eames, Partner
T: +61 7 3135 0629
Paul Venus, Partner
T: +61 7 3135 0613
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