PEAK HORTICULTURE organisation, Growcom, is deeply disappointed by reports that rogue operators have exploited farm workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme.
The reports point to a small number of rogue labour hire companies (LHC) failing to meet their obligations within the Programme to properly treat and pay workers.
These reports raise serious red flags about whether the government’s enforcement agencies are sufficiently resourced to monitor and police the programme — and able to bring wrong doers to justice within a reasonable timeframe.
Chief Advocate Rachel Mackenzie said Growcom has been a strong supporter of the Seasonal Worker Programme because it is designed to deliver a win-win for farmers and for seasonal workers from Pacific nations.
“This Seasonal Worker Programme when operating correctly delivers a reliable harvest labour for Australian growers and economic opportunities for people from developing nations in the Pacific.
“As Queensland’s peak grower group, Growcom wants to make it clear there is no place in the Australian horticulture industry for anyone who seeks to willfully exploit workers or contravene the good intentions and economic outcomes designed to flow from the Seasonal Worker Programme.
“The Seasonal Worker Programme has been highly successful, with many workers returning year after year to farms where they have established strong, positive working relationships with growers and local communities.”
To become an Approved Employer within the Seasonal Worker Programme, farm businesses or labour hire companies (LHCs) must complete a rigorous review and assessment process by the Australian Government.
“The fact that a rogue operator has been able to slip through the system and so appallingly exploit his own countrymen is a matter of extreme concern to us,” Ms Mackenzie said.
“Through professional development programs such as the Fair Farms Initiative, Growcom has strongly emphasised that growers must comply with Fair Work laws at all times, and have an important role to play in ensuring that those working on their farms are both treated and paid appropriately. This includes situations where workers are supplied to the farm through a labour hire company (LHC).
“Growcom recommends that growers follow due diligence to ensure they are using a reputable company and follow this up by making further checks directly with workers.
“However, in instances where workers are being coerced into silence and labour hire companies are deliberately obscuring information, it is very difficult for growers to be sure that workers are receiving their proper entitlements,” said Ms. Mackenzie.
“In these cases, we must be confident that the monitoring, compliance and enforcement mechanisms are being fulfilled at a government level.
“These breaches also call into question the usefulness of further regulation if the current regulations and protections are not being adequately enforced.”
If growers suspect there may or has been a breach they must report it to: https://www.fairwork.gov.au/
Growcom recently attended the Migrant Worker Taskforce Stakeholder Roundtable where it raised concerns with aspects of the Seasonal Workers Programme as well as other related labour issues.
Growcom also acknowledged that, in some regions, there are serious issues with providing appropriate accommodation for seasonal workers and is looking into avenues to work with local stakeholders to resolve this matter.
Growers are encouraged to do the following:
- Check the LHC’s business credentials (e.g. ABN);
- Ensure a robust Labour Hire Contractors Agreement is in place between the farm business and the contractor, which sets out who is responsible for what;
- Do the appropriate checks to ensure their LHC has not been prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombudsman for not complying with workplace laws;
- Review workplace practices on a regular basis – schedule time to check in with contractors (and their employees) regularly to ensure they are complying with workplace laws;
- Ask for evidence of payslips provided to employees;
- Check that all employees know their pay rate;
- Check that all employees know which Award they are employed under;
- Ask for evidence of Superannuation payments and an up-to-date work cover policy;
- Ask for evidence of Visa checks to ensure all employees have the right to work in Australia.