Businesses in Bundaberg, Mundubbera and Childers in Queensland’s Wide Bay region will be scrutinised by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) following concerns that employers may be breaching workplace laws.
Approximately 40 businesses, some involved in horticultural practices, are being audited under a review the FWO hoped would help build a culture of compliancy in the industry.
Along with collecting time sheets and wage records, the FWO is conducting interviews with growers, contractors and employees.
“Our inspectors are on the ground to check employers are complying with their legal obligations under the Fair Work Act, the Horticulture Award and enterprise agreements,” said Australia’s acting fair work ombudsman, Michael Campbell.
“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.”
Peak representative body for Queensland horticulture, Growcom, has welcomed the action taken by the FWO. Its programme, Fair Farms, is an industry-led initiative that aims to give growers the opportunity to improve their employment practices through training and certification.
Fair Farms programme manager Thomas Hertel said every case was different.
“It is important to distinguish between those who deliberately breach employment laws to gain an unfair advantage in the market, and those who inadvertently fall short of meeting their various employer obligations under the fair work system,” Hertel explained.
The audits follow the 2018 publication of the Harvest Trail inquiry, a five-year investigation led by the FWO into workplace arrangements within Australia’s horticultural industry. More than AUD$1m in unpaid wages was recovered for over 2,500 workers during that investigation.
Workplace law breaches were identified in 75 per cent of investigations in the Wide Bay region, compared to the inquiry-wide average of 55 per cent.
The FWO reiterated that visa holders can seek their assistance without fear of having their visa cancelled.