20 October 2023

Riverina a hot spot as Fair Work Ombudsman cracks down on agriculture sector compliance

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
Start the conversation
Man inspecting farm

The Fair Work Ombudsman has targeted the Riverina as the agriculture sector inspections continue. Photo: pixdeluxe.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has identified Riverina as one of 15 hot spot regions where potential non-compliance is prevalent in agriculture.

The FWO is investigating 447 businesses in regional hot spots across Australia since its agriculture strategy began in December 2021. The regulator has fined employers $316,860 nationally and recovered $72,301 for underpaid workers as a result, and investigations continue into the sector.

The regulator recently inspected sites in the Riverina, Lockyer Valley and the Sunshine Coast.

Of the investigations concluded in the Riverina so far, four businesses were deemed compliant, while two were found to be in violation. The regulatory body has issued two compliance notices and will continue investigating the remaining businesses.

Fair Work Ombudsman Anna Booth emphasised the regulator’s focus on the agriculture sector in 2023-24 would persist due to its reliance on vulnerable workers, including visa holders and its use of complex supply chains.

READ ALSO Class acts: Winners of the For the Love of Local student art competition announced

“With very high numbers of visa holders in the workforce, too many agriculture employers are breaching record-keeping and payslips laws, which are the bedrock of workplace compliance,” Ms Booth said.

“It’s a red flag if workers are not issued payslips, can’t identify their employer and are paid cash-in-hand by individuals seemingly unrelated to the apparent employing entity. We see this all too often in multi-level supply chains.

“Breaches of record-keeping and payslips laws often indicate increased risks of underpaying workers as well as non-compliance with other Commonwealth laws. Employers should access our free resources and get it right, or they will continue to face fines, back payments and legal proceedings,” she said.

Fair Work Inspectors have issued 48 compliance notices, leading to $72,301 in back payments for 184 workers. Of these notices, 26 were directed at labour hire entities, and 22 were directed at growers.

Ten of the compliance notices were connected to contraventions related to pieceworkers (employees who receive payment based on the number of items produced, packed or picked), while 25 of the infringement notices were linked to employers’ failures to create and maintain records of pieceworkers’ worked hours.

READ ALSO The $4 million question: American Express problem sees Griffith winery liquidation hearing postponed again

“Part of our agriculture focus is keeping a close eye on pieceworker-related compliance following last year’s horticulture award changes,” Ms Booth said.

“Overall, across the sector, while there is room for improvement, we are pleased to have met many compliant growers who have been happy to see us out helping to enforce a level playing field among the crops and fields across the country.”

Ms Booth said Fair Work inspectors would continue to target unannounced hot spots this year and next.

“Labour hire entities and growers are on notice. They may get a visit from Fair Work Inspectors very soon – and we will take enforcement action where appropriate,” she said.

The FWO’s Horticulture Showcase has self-audit tools, templates for employers hiring pieceworkers and a range of resources for migrant workers.

Growers using labour hire providers should access the Showcase’s ‘Using labour hire’ webpage, including the guide to monitoring labour contracting.

Employers and employees can visit Fair Work or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance about their rights and obligations in the workplace. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.