Granite Belt complaints spike

ALLEGATIONS of inappropriate sexual conduct, underpayment of wages, non-payment of superannuation, overcrowded worker accommodation and bullying by outside contractors around the Granite Belt are being investigated by the Queensland Workplace Rights Office after a spike in complaints.

Ombudsman Don Brown this week said the increase in workplace complaints started in early February.

Mr Brown said this included concerns raised from individuals and people making complaints on behalf of others.

"In response, my office will investigate the specific complaints but the breadth of the allegations means that effective, lasting improvements will only occur if all of the responsible agencies are involved.

"The flow-on effects (of mistreatment) are difficult to quantify, however, in Bundaberg town traders and accommodation providers were concerned that repeated negative reports about the area were impacting on their business," Mr Brown said.

He said the Granite Belt didn't fair well in the workplace rights category this harvest season, ranking a close second behind Bundaberg.

A spokesman for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations confirmed the department was aware of the rise in complaints.

But the spokesman said the increases were related to "outside contractors".

"Every year we get some complaints, probably from less than one per cent of the people we register for work," he said.

"This year it has been incorrect or non-payment of wages by contractors, cash payments or no tax paid. Backpackers then find themselves not being able to get the verification form signed by the employer for their second visa.

"There have also been complaints about sub-standard living conditions in the houses rented by the contractors and sometimes verbal and physical abuse."

The spokesman also said workers should be on the lookout for offers that sound too good to be true and for people approaching them in the street with offers of work.

"They also need to check out job offers on the internet - a large percentage of people caught by illegal operators get their work over the internet," he said.

"A good way to avoid questionable work is to only take vacancies from the Harvest Trail website (harvesttrail.gov.au) or through an Australian Government-approved Harvest Labour Services provider."

Workers who experience poor treatment should report it to the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

Stanthorpe residents with information which might be relevant to the Ombudsman's investigation can phone 1300 737 841 or email qwro@justice.qld.gov.au.

The names of information providers are treated confidentially.

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