Fair work agency seeing rise in cover ups of underpayments to overseas workers

by Ray Clancy on August 8, 2017

in Australia Immigration

Concerns are rising in Australia that more cases of employers deliberately not keeping correct records when it comes to paying workers from overseas such as backpackers and immigrants are being uncovered.

It means they are paying workers like students, working holidaymakers and even refugees less than the minimum wage, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman. It says it is seeing more examples of blatant record keeping failures.

(coolendelkid/Bigstock.com)

‘We are concerned the current penalties available to the courts for record-keeping breaches are too low and this creates a perverse incentive for some operators to deliberately breach their record keeping obligations to conceal the underpayment of wages,’ said a spokesman.

‘It is completely unacceptable for an employer to fail to keep records of the hours their employees work,’ he explained and the agency is calling on people to keep their own records. It has launched a new app, Record My Hours, which is particularly aimed at helping young and migrant workers to protect themselves by making the keeping of a work diary much easier through the use of smartphone technology.

The FWO’s Harvest Trail enquiry has been uncovering examples of exploitation around the country. It has found a large number of cases of underpayments and confusion among growers and labour hire contractors about their workplace obligations.

It has recently completed an inquiry into the experiences of 417 working holiday visa holders in Australia and found that the requirement to do 88 days of specified, regional paid work to qualify for a second year visa was unintentionally creating an environment where some unscrupulous operators were exploiting workers from overseas.

In a recent case a Queensland labour hire company and its manager were fined more than $84,000 after flouting record keeping and pay slip laws relating to foreign workers, despite having previously been cautioned by the FWO.

A lack of basic records of hours worked by employees meant that the FWO was only able to calculate the entitlements of six out of 265 employees that HTA Farmings had supplied to pick and pack strawberries at a Caboolture strawberry farm. Many of the employees were overseas workers from Asian countries and were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas at the time.

The FWO has an anonymous reporting system that allows people to alert them to potential workplace breaches and since it was launched in May 2016 it has received more than 10,000 tip offs with 15% of these coming from visa holders.

It is now possible to use the system on other languages with 16 added including Chinese, Korean, Arabic and Spanish.

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