Unfair working conditions for young overseas workers found in Australia’s Salad Bowl

by Ray Clancy on August 31, 2017

in Australia Travel, Jobs in Australia

The crackdown on unfair treatment of international workers, including backpackers and students, in the farming industry in Australia is continuing with a major investigation in Queensland.

The Lockyer Valley, known as the salad bowl of Australia, is popular for vegetable picking and jobs are advertised all over the world, particularly aimed at young people spending a working holiday in the country and students looking to earn money during the holidays.

(joegough/Bigstock.com)

However, a multi-agency operation involving the Fair Work Ombudsman, Queensland Workplace Health and Safety and the Queensland has investigated a number of breaches following a tip off from within the farming industry.

The allegations included potential underpayment of wages, workers being provided with unsafe and very poor accommodation, unsafe drinking water, unregistered transport and workers being charged job find fees.

A team of 12 inspectors and police conducted unannounced visits to four vegetable farms over two days and are now investigating potential breaches by several contractors.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said it was encouraging to see businesses taking a proactive interest in ensuring compliance within the horticulture sector. ‘The fact that the industry itself is willing to bring forward allegations of suspected non-compliance is a positive sign,’ she explained.

‘It is blatantly unfair for workers and it is unfair for responsible operators that are doing the right thing to have to compete with those who base their business models on unlawful activities. We have a strong message to crooked operators that we are on the case and will use our powers to enforce the law and disrupt their unlawful activities,’ she added.

James pointed out that while employers must comply with their workplace obligations, it was important for workers to understand their workplace rights and know where to go to seek help.

‘I strongly encourage all workers engaged in the sector to check out the Fair Work Ombudsman’s top tips for backpackers, seasonal workers and growers online,’ she said.

Jobs on farms in the area are often advertised on Gumtree and a wide variety of websites for young people looking for seasonal work in Australia and there are numerous groups for job seekers on Facebook.

A report last year into labour hire in Queensland found that the exploitation and mistreatment of workers, the undercutting of employment conditions, and a range of other illegal or questionable practices were taking place.

It said some firms saw labour hire as a way of cost cutting by minimising responsibilities towards their workforce, and that such employees often faced low rates of pay, fewer opportunities for training and higher rates of occupational injury than others.

There was evidence of sexual harassment, sub-standard living conditions, employers holding passports, a lack of safety equipment and training, failures to provide payslips, paying below the minimum wage and withholding wages for spurious reasons such as damaging accommodation.

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