Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2016
Fruit and vegetable growers are urged to check their current and
prospective labour hire agreements, following an announcement by
the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) that the agency is reviewing
complaints from workers employed by labour hire businesses in the
Stanthorpe region in Queensland.
The majority of complaints have come from backpackers on the
working holiday (subclass 417) visa, who the FWO view as a
"vulnerable" class of worker due to their reliance on
regional employers to assist them in meeting visa requirements.
This reliance is matched by agribusiness employers by virtue of the
industry's need for workers on a seasonal basis and in regional
To tap into this labour force, many growers engage backpackers
through labour-hire businesses, which can save time and expense in
recruitment and payroll responsibilities. However, growers should
be aware of their exposure to liability should they enter into a
labour hire agreement with a contractor who doesn't pay their
In addition to the negative publicity associated with
investigative and legal action by the FWO, a grower could be held
liable as an accessory to a contravention by a labour hire company
under the Fair Work Act 2009 (e.g. underpayment of minimum wages)
if the FWO can establish that the grower was involved with the
Businesses should be aware that the FWO has been increasing its
focus on alleging accessorial liability in the last few years.
For each breach of the FW Act, the FWO can seek a penalty of up
to a maximum of $51,000 for companies and $10,200 for
Growers should take stock of their current and prospective
labour hire agreements to ensure that they at least enable the
labour hire business to pay the correct minimum wages, penalty
rates and overtime. For instance, the charge rate should not be
less than $21.08 per hour as this is the minimum casual rate per
hour for ordinary time under the Horticulture Award 2010.
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