Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Fair work inspections for orchards

Fair Work Ombudsman planning unannounced visits to properties in the Goulburn Valley.

May 24, 2014 3:04am

Goulburn Valley pear and apple orchards will be the target of Fair Work Ombudsman checks during the next few weeks as part of its ongoing focus on seasonal workers.

Fair Work inspectors are planning unannounced visits to properties in three states to speak with growers and labour hire contractors about their obligations under federal workplace laws. Seasonal workers engaged to pick and pack the fruit will also be encouraged to ask any questions they have about their pay and conditions.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the main purpose of the visits was to increase awareness among orchardists and labour hire contractors of workplace laws.

But inspectors would also be looking for breaches.

‘‘We can tell a lot about an employer’s level of compliance by talking to them and their workers, but we’ll look at time-and-wages records if we need to get a clearer picture,’’ Ms James said.

The Fair Work Ombudsman conducted an information session for Goulburn Valley employers this month.

Ms James said the agency continued to receive complaints from seasonal harvest workers that they were underpaid — and many were substantiated.

‘‘Many fruitpickers are overseas workers who may be vulnerable if they’re not fully aware of their entitlements or reluctant to complain, so it’s important we are proactive about ensuring their rights are protected and that their employers are fullyaware of the law,’’ she said.

Common issues of non-compliance in the apple and pear industry included underpayment of hourly rates, a lack of written agreements for piece-work or the provision of detailed pay slips.

Ms James said Fair Work inspectors would also return to orchards during next year’s harvest to check employers were continuing to meet workplace obligations.

‘‘We want to ensure employers understand and meet their workplace obligations and we’re also seeking information about industry factors that influence compliance levels,’’ she said.

‘‘This knowledge will help us to better target our education and campaign activities, particularly in relation to the overseas workers employed in this sector.’’

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