Aussie workplace probe uncovers widespread wage breaches in major harvesting sector

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-22 12:01:34|Editor: Yang Yi
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SYDNEY, Nov. 22 (Xinhua) -- Australian workplace inspectors have recovered more than 1 million Australian dollars (725,000 U.S. dollars) in unpaid wages for over 2,500 employees involved in the seasonal harvesting of fresh fruit and vegetables, authorities said Thursday.

Many of the victims are on popular working holiday visas.

The major inquiry covered more than 630 businesses connected with the harvesting of various crops including grapes, strawberries, mushrooms and apples across the country, with more than 400 growers and nearly 200 labor hire contractors investigated, the Fair Work Ombudsman government workplace relations regulator said in a statement.

Over half of the businesses were found to have breached workplace laws, including deliberate and significant underpayment of wages, falsification of records and unauthorized deductions, said the regulator.

Nearly 70 percent of the businesses in the sector employed visa holders, with those on working holiday subclass 417 visas (aged 18 to 31 years old) the most common migrant workers on the "harvest trail," it said.

Legal action was taken against at least eight employers for serious alleged breaches, according to the regulator.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman visited hundreds of horticulture businesses and found over half did not comply with workplace laws. Our inquiry highlighted unacceptable practices of underpaying workers in one of Australia's largest rural industries," said the regulator's head Sandra Parker.

"Growers rely heavily on migrant workers to pick, pack and process crops, and these workers can be particularly vulnerable. Migrant workers may not seek help because of language and cultural barriers, concerns about visa status, or because they are unaware of their workplace rights."

The inspectors also issued 150 formal cautions to employers, 132 infringement notices and 13 compliance notices for breaches of workplace laws during the inquiry.

"All workers in Australia have the same rights and protections at work, regardless of citizenship or visa status," said Parker.

"We will continue to monitor harvest trail employers and prioritize any requests for assistance from workers. Growers and labor hire operators can expect to face further action if they do not comply with Australia's workplace laws."