I Luv Pty Ltd at Cottonvale, near Stanthorpe
I Luv Pty Ltd at Cottonvale, near Stanthorpe Contributed

Farm fined almost $70,000 for underpaying staff

OPERATORS of a strawberry farm have been fined almost $70,000 and ordered to overhaul their workplace practices after legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Federal Circuit Court imposed the penalties against the operators of the strawberry farm on Newlands Rd at Cottonvale, near Stanthorpe.

Farm owner Hour Him and his partner Tay-Duc Nguyen, the farm's former operations manager, were each fined $6400.

Mr Him's company, I Luv Pty Ltd, was fined $56,000. Total fines were $68,800.

The FWO found six overseas workers had been underpaid a total of $2601 when the farm was audited last year as part of the FWO's national Harvest Trail Inquiry.

The six employees, who were on 417 working holiday visas, were underpaid over a two-week period between March 28 and April 10 last year.

In 2013, the FWO also made I Luv Pty Ltd back-pay nine employees more than $21,000.

The company also received two contravention letters and a formal Letter of Caution placing it on notice that further breaches could result in enforcement action.

Judge Salvatore Vasta added additional orders to overhauling workplace practices on the farm that were agreed to by the operators.

Judge Vasta ordered I Luv Pty Ltd to commission an external audit of its compliance with workplace laws next year and provide the FWO with a report on the findings, including steps taken to fix any non-compliance.

Mr Him and Ms Nguyen have been instructed to undertake training in relation to their workplace obligations.

I Luv Pty Ltd must also register with the My Account service at www.fairwork.gov.au and use the educational self-help tools for employers.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the court's decision sent a clear message to rural employers saying "exploitation of overseas workers on their properties will not be tolerated".

Ms James said it was unacceptable that Mr Him, who was previously a member of Growcom Australia and the Queensland Strawberry Growers' Association, "continued to disregard his workplace responsibilities after having previously been put on notice of his lawful obligations in 2013".

She said the FWO was devoting considerable resources to ensuring farms that relied heavily on labour from overseas workers were complying with workplace laws.

The Harvest Trail Inquiry was launched in response to ongoing requests for assistance from employees in the horticulture sector and confusion among growers and labour-hire contractors about their workplace obligations.

"We are conscious many fruit pickers are young overseas workers who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their rights, are reluctant to complain or face language barriers," Ms James said.

"It's important we are pro-active about ensuring they receive their full lawful entitlements."

The Fair Work Ombudsman is also finalising a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa.

The Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $3 million in underpaid wages and entitlements for 687 visa-holders last financial year.

Employers and employees seeking assistance can visit www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

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