Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ombudsman has her eye on cherry farms

UP to 10 cherry farms in Tasmania's Derwent, Huon and Coal River valleys will receive visits from officers of the Fair Work Ombudsman this summer. Ombudsman Natalie James said Fair Work inspectors would visit farms in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania to check employers were paying fruit pickers their full entitlements during the harvest period.

Fair Work Inspectors will conduct audits at up to 65 farms, including:
• NSW: up to 35 farms in the Young, Orange and Mudgee areas during December
• VIC: up to 10 farms in the Yarra Valley area during December
• SA: up to 10 farms in the Adelaide Hills area during December
• TAS: up to 10 farms in Derwent Valley, Huon Valley and Coal River Valley regions in January.

Ms James said cherry farms were being focused on because in recent years they had been the source of several under-payment complaints from fruit pickers, including young and foreign workers such as backpackers. She said common non-compliance issues in the industry included:
• Underpayment of minimum hourly rates under the Horticulture Award 2010,
• Failure to make written piecework agreements with employees on piece rates,
• Failing to provide piece rate employees with a copy of their agreement,
• Failure to keep time-and-wages records, particularly for casual employees,
• Failure to provide the Fair Work Information Statement to new employees,
• Detailed pay slips not being provided within one day of pay day, and
• Unlawful deductions from employees’ wages for travel and accommodation.

Ms James said Fair Work Inspectors would check employers’ compliance with workplace laws and also encourage cherry pickers to come forward with any queries or concerns they have. “We are conscious that many fruit pickers are young and foreign workers who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their entitlements or reluctant to complain, so it’s important that we are proactive about ensuring they are receiving their full lawful entitlements,” Ms James said.  

In any cases of non-compliance, the preference of Fair Work Inspectors would be to assist growers to voluntarily rectify their issues and educate them about the range of free resources at www.fairwork.gov.au/horticulture. In cases of serious, deliberate or repeated contraventions, or if growers were not willing to co-operate, inspectors may consider taking further action.

Advice available at www.fairwork.gov.au/horticulture includes detailed information about the Horticulture Award 2010, classifications and categories of workers, hours of work, breaks and laws relating to paying piece rates. Other free resources available for download include templates for time-and-wages sheets and pay slips and copies of the Fair Work Information Statement. Information translated into 27 different languages is available at www.fairwork.gov.au/languages. Employers and employees seeking advice or assistance should visit the website or call the Fair Work info-line on 13 13 94. A free interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

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