Holiday and seasonal workers in Australia urged to keep their own employment records

by Ray Clancy on July 5, 2017

in Jobs in Australia

Backpackers, holidaymakers and other seasonal workers from abroad are being urged to keep their own records of hours worked if they suspect their employer is trying to underpay them.

The call from the Fair Work Ombudsman comes as the organisation has begun legal action against a fruit farmer in northern Victoria for allegedly underpaying two fruit pickers more than $13,000 and providing false and misleading records to Fair Work inspectors.

Farm Work

(budabarl/Bigstock.com)

The FWO said it is able to take the employer to court because the workers kept their own records as they believed that the farmer was not being fair.

After receiving requests for assistance from the two workers, the FWO investigated Zucco Farming properties and inspectors found the company had allegedly paid the two workers flat rates of between $15.41 and $16.77 for all hours worked to pick fruit and perform pruning, packing and cleaning duties.

Under the Horticulture Award 2010 at the time, the workers were entitled to minimum ordinary rates, including casual loading, of $21.61 for all hours, except for public holidays when they were entitled to $38.90 per hour.

In total, the two workers were allegedly underpaid a total of $13,529 between August 2015 and March 2016. The company has not rectified any of the alleged underpayments.

It is alleged that Mr. Zucco and his company also contravened workplace laws by knowingly providing false and misleading records to inspectors that understated the number of hours worked by the employees, which gave the appearance the two workers had been paid higher hourly rates than was actually the case.

FWO ombudsman Natalie James said that the legal action has been commenced because of the seriousness of the alleged contraventions. ‘Allegations that records have been knowingly fabricated are very serious. If proven, this type of behaviour often indicates that operators are knowingly underpaying their workforce and using false documents in order to conceal the conduct,’ she explained.

‘When employers fail to keep records or supply us with inaccurate records, it compromised our ability to determine whether workers have been paid their full lawful entitlements. We also treat cases involving underpayment of overseas workers particularly seriously because we are conscious that they can be vulnerable due to a lack of awareness of their entitlements, and a reluctance to complain,’ she added.

James also pointed out that the case is an example of the value of workers keeping their own records, as the records kept by the two workers played a crucial role in making it possible for the FWO to quantify the alleged underpayments and pursue legal action.

Earlier this year the FWO 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.

‘This does not absolve employers from their record keeping obligations but it provides employees with an extra layer of protection if their employer neglects their record keeping responsibilities or creates false or misleading records, as is alleged in this case,’ James said.

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