Fair Work Ombudsman checking pickers being paid properly

Claudia Baxter

THE Fair Work Ombudsman is encouraging fruit and vegetable pickers on the harvest trail - in particular foreign workers - to check their workplace entitlements.

The Fair Work Ombudsman continues to receive complaints from pickers and other seasonal workers. Many are substantiated, with underpayment of wages the main issue.

The sector attracts many foreign workers, with many working holiday visa holders doing the required three-month regional stint to secure a second 12-month working holiday visa.

Many employers paying piecework rates also fail to have written piecework agreements in place that outline the rates of pay pickers will get under the award and to provide their workers with a signed copy of these agreements.

Over the past two years about 230 complaints in the fruit picking sector were investigated and $80,000 was recovered for 107 workers. Approximately one-third were visa holders - mostly working holiday makers.

Recently, $7500 was recovered for 100 strawberry pickers, most of whom were working holiday makers in Caboolture on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said harvest workers can be vulnerable to exploitation or inadvertent underpayment because they're often not aware of what they should be receiving or where to turn for information and advice.

The Ombudsman is stepping up its effort to target these workers, with dedicated information on its Facebook page, fb.com/fairwork.gov.au with specific information and links to help pickers and harvest workers understand their entitlements.

It includes information about pay and entitlements, templates for piecework rate agreements and trans

lated resources in Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean - the major source countries for working holiday makers to Australia.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman will continue to keep a close eye on the industry but we also encourage any worker who thinks they might be missing out on correct pay and entitlements to have a look at the resources on our Facebook page or contact us on 13 13 94," Ms James said.

A two-hour live Q&A session will be held on Facebook on October 23 where workers and employers can ask Fair Work advisers about pay and entitlements and what staff should be paid. Employers and employees can sign up to the event by pressing 'join' on the event page, http://www.on.fb.me/1962HEg to enable them to post questions on the day.

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