Farm employer fines top $170,000, FAIR Labor Ombudsman report highlights need for exemplary standards in shearing industry as sector seeks to hire Pacific island workers .
Last Friday, the Fair Work Ombudsman urged employers in the agriculture sector to prioritize compliance as fines for payslip and recordkeeping violations total more than $170,000 nationwide.
Regulators have investigated 330 companies in regional hotspots across Australia since the agriculture strategy launched in December 2021.
Under the Agriculture Strategy, Fair Work Inspectors issued 64 breach notices for payslip and record keeping violations and fined employers totaling $176,028. Of the infringement notices, 55 were issued to labor hiring entities and 9 to producers.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is also responsible for enforcing wages and rights under Pacific Australia’s labor migration system and has initiated 48 investigations this year. His 37 investigations into PALM scheme employers have been completed, including those initiated the previous year. Some PALM-related investigations involved meat processors. Several studies under the Agriculture Strategy have involved livestock producers. FWO did not comment on the implementation results (infringement or compliance notices) or specific industries affected by the violations mentioned.
In response to the violations, FWO issued seven compliance notices. Recoveries for 2022-2023 totaled $25,732 for 252 employees as a result of compliance notices.
Shear Industry Supports Enforcement and Compliance
While no PALM workers are formally employed in the Australian wool industry yet, the Australian Shearing Contractors Association’s Executive Director, Jason Letchford, said the SCAA is absolutely in favor of enforcing regulation and compliance. I said there is.
“Members have asked for stronger enforcement.
“The majority of operators in the wool harvesting sector are doing the right thing. It is,” he said.
“Workforce supply is our number one priority right now, and we welcome any initiative that supports the industry’s efforts on this front.”
Given the notoriety of the program being acquired by other non-standard operators in the agricultural sector, Mr. Letchford said that for the PALM program to work in shearing operations, it had to be “exemplary,” including quality. “Only employers who can demonstrate work will be eligible,” it said.of the customer’s wool-growing infrastructure
“In other words, each employer is approved on a case-by-case basis, so substandard operators are unlikely to have the opportunity to participate in the PALM scheme.
“I think it’s worth noting that most of the industry is now focused on offering salaries and conditions that are ‘best practice’ rather than ‘minimum standards,'” he said.
“The market is currently very competitive when it comes to attracting qualified employees, so shear contractors and wool producers who focus only on ‘minimum standards’ will not succeed.
“Quality employees are looking for quality employers,” he said.
“Employers who offer higher wages demand better working conditions and comforts from their customer farmers, down to the size of the sheep their employees expect to work on a daily basis.
Emphasis on record keeping and payslip compliance
FWO’s on-site inspections targeted employers in 15 “hot spot” areas where FWO’s information suggests non-compliance may be common. Areas recently studied include the Whitsunday Coast and Stanthorpe in Queensland, Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills, and southwestern Western Australia.
Fair Work Ombudsman’s Sandra Parker said the regulator’s farming strategy emphasizes the importance of employers complying with recordkeeping and payroll laws.
“Records management is the cornerstone of complying with workplace laws.
“Breaches related to record keeping, whether intentional or not, may indicate an increased risk of underpayment,” said Barker.
Parker said inspectors consistently find higher levels of noncompliance with companies that employ workers, as opposed to producers that employ workers directly.
“When an employee is unable to identify their employer and is being paid in cash without a payslip by an individual who appears unrelated to their ostensible employer, it is a red flag. It is prevalent in multi-level supply chains that are detecting behavior.”
Inspectors also issued 18 compliance notices, 10 for underpayment and 8 for non-financial violations. was issued to the producer.
During a recent site visit, five copies were distributed on the spot. Three in the Manjimup-Donnybrook area of southwestern Washington and two in Stanthorpe were distributed to employers who failed to provide new workers with the required information statements.
“Not handing out a Fair Work Information Statement or a Casual Employment Statement to new workers is not trivial,” Parker said.
“We expect employers to meet this legal obligation, which will help us keep our hard-working employees informed.”
“With unannounced hot spot inspections continuing this year and next, producers and employers of workers are taking precautions.
“They may soon receive a visit from Fair Work inspectors – and we will take enforcement action where appropriate,” she said.
Piecework Worker-Related Compliance Under Horticultural Awards
Nationally, 110 studies under the FWO Agriculture Strategy are ongoing. Parker said there is a lot of ongoing research related to changes to the minimum wage guarantee for piecework workers.
“Our inspection showed growers sophisticated software that tracks productivity and ensures compliance with horticultural awards.
However, not all employers meet their obligations, and record keeping violations are an important part of it. “
Of the 64 INs issued, 13 relate to the failure to create and keep necessary records for peace workers (such as hours worked) since the April 2022 changes to the Peace Workers Act. These are fines totaling $49,542 for 11 worker hiring companies and two growers.
So far, two compliance notices have been issued for Peaceworker-related violations.
Investigation of PALM scheme
Fair Work inspectors regularly brief new and returning recruits under the PALM scheme, which covers qualifications in the workplace in Australia.
Late last year, the Fair Work Ombudsman filed a lawsuit against a Queensland labor hire company, alleging that 87 workers were underpaid by May 2020. This lawsuit is ongoing.
FWO’s Horticulture Showcase has self-audit tools, templates for employers hiring piecework workers, and a variety of resources for migrant workers.
Employers and employees can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or call the Fair Work Infoline. 13 13 94 Free advice and assistance with your rights and obligations at work.Free interpretation service available 13 14 50.
Follow the Fair Work Ombudsman @fairwork_gov_au Or find FWO on Facebook www.facebook.com/fairwork.gov.au.