Backpackers in Australia urged to make sure they know who is paying them

by Ray Clancy on January 4, 2018

in Jobs in Australia

Working on farms in Australia is still popular with younger people from all over the world but they are being urged to make sure they know who is employing and paying them.

The Fair Work Ombudsman said it is important for any visa holders who take up employment in Australia to establish from the outset that they will be paid lawful minimum rates and issued with pay slips.

Farm Work

(budabarl/Bigstock.com)

‘It is crucial for backpackers working on 417 visas to establish these basics from the outset because it can help them avoid entering into situations where they can be exploited and it can help them avoid difficulties applying for a second year on their visas,’ said Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

‘Any worker who finds themselves in a situation where they are concerned they are being exploited or treated unfairly should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance as soon as possible,’ she added.

In a recent matter, two 417 visa holders who were paid unlawfully low, flat rates while working at a crocodile farm in far north Queensland lodged requests for assistance with the Fair Work Ombudsman after becoming concerned their working arrangements might not satisfy the requirements for second year visas.

After the Fair Work Ombudsman intervened, the workers were back paid their outstanding wages and one of the workers has since successfully applied for a second-year 417 visa, while the other was intending to apply.

In another case 12 workers at mango farms near Darwin were underpaid a total of $35,630 over a period of just two months. The Fair Work Ombudsman investigated after getting reports that workers were not being paid the correct wages.

The owner was fined and ordered to pay back the unpaid wages after it was found that the some of the workers, who were backpackers in Australia on 417 working holiday visas from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Taiwan picking, weeding and pruning, were paid nothing.

Most camped on the mango farms while working and were hired after responding to online job advertisements or approached for work. Many were keen to earn money to support their travels and become eligible to apply for a second year on their 417 visas by satisfying the requirement to undertake 88 days’ specified paid work in a designated regional area and in certain industries in their first year.

As casual employees, under the Horticulture Award 2010 at the time they were entitled to be paid minimum hourly rates ranging from $19.45 to $21.61 yet individual underpayments range from $648 to $5,119.

They were not given pay slips, leaving them with no proof of completing the picking work and hampering their ability to apply for a second year on their 417 visas.

James said that the exploitation of vulnerable workers on Australian farms is completely unacceptable conduct. ‘This type of appalling treatment of overseas workers on Australian farms is extremely concerning,’ she explained.

Currently the Fair Work Ombudsman’s Harvest Trail Inquiry is focusing on the horticulture and viticulture sectors nationally in response to ongoing requests for assistance from employees in the sector, persistent underpayments and confusion among growers and labour hire contractors about their workplace obligations.

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