Labour-hire company faces court over allegations of exploiting Pacific island workers in 416 Visa program

A labour-hire company in Queensland is facing legal action for alleged exploitation of workers recruited from Vanuatu to pick fruit and vegetables.

The 22 workers were recruited under the 416 visa program, which allows people from the Pacific Region and East Timor to work short term in Australia in certain industries.

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The Fair Work Ombudsman has taken action in the Federal Circuit Court against Queensland man Emmanuel Bani and his company Maroochy Sunshine, for allegedly underpaying 22 workers a total of $77,649, over a period of four to seven weeks in 2014.

Fair Work Australia said the company was obliged to provide the workers with at least 30 hours work each week and wages of more than $500 each, per week.

However, Fair Work Australia alleges Mr Bani only arranged “sporadic fruit and vegetable picking work” in the Lockyer Valley, Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg areas.

“Thirteen workers were allegedly paid nothing at all and others were paid individual amounts of between $50 and $300,” Fair Work Australia said in a statement.

“It is also alleged that annual leave entitlements were underpaid, pay-slip and frequency-of-pay laws were breached, and that a Notice to Produce employment documents was not complied with.

“Fair Work inspectors investigated after receiving a referral from the Department of Employment.”

Fair Work Australia also said its inspectors met with Mr Bani in relation to different matter and “reminded him of his obligations to comply with workplace laws,” just five days before the 22 workers arrived from Vanuatu.

Mr Bani now faces penalties of up to $10,200 per contravention and his company, Maroochy Sunshine, faces penalties of up to $51,000 per contravention.

The 22 workers have since returned to Vanuatu.

A directions hearing is listed for January 18 in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane.

The case comes at a time when the Fair Work Ombudsman is conducting a number of inquiries into what it calls “the structural and behavioural drivers of non-compliance” in industries in which overseas workers are commonly used.

This includes an inquiry into the horticulture and viticulture sectors, an inquiry into the7-Eleven franchise network and an inquiry into arrangements for workers cleaning four and five-star hotels.

Horticulture industry group Growcom has been working to keep its members up-to-date on requirements when employing foreign workers.

Maroochy Sunshine is not a member of Growcom.

Growcom commercial services manager Donna Mogg said there was no longer any excuse to be ignorant of the rules involved in employing foreign workers and any breach of their rights was unacceptable.

“We’ve been on the campaign trail with the Fair Work Ombudsman, providing education, and support and resources, not only to our membership but to the wider horticulture industry, longer than the Fair Work campaign has been running,” she said.

“It is always disappointing to see these kinds of cases come up, and especially involving the seasonal worker program.”

Ms Mogg said the majority of companies in the horticulture industry were compliant with the rules.

Courtesy – ABC Rural

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