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Law

Farm hit with legal action after underpaying migrant workers

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read

A celery farm in Victoria has landed itself in trouble after reportedly underpaying migrant workers, highlighting how vulnerable workers can be taken advantage of.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has commenced legal action against A and G Lamattina and Sons Pty Ltd (Lamattina), one of Australia’s largest celery producers, after the company allegedly underpaid three visa holders $91,907 over a year.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Mark Scully believes cases like this highlight how vulnerable workers can be taken advantage of by companies.

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“The agriculture sector, including horticulture, engages many vulnerable workers, such as visa holders, who may be unaware of their rights or unwilling to speak up to their employer. Visa holders have the same workplace rights as all other workers,” Mr Scully said.

It’s important for workers to be aware of their rights, and for employers to be up-to-date on their responsibilities.

Mr Scully continued: “Employers who allegedly fail to pay for all time worked are being found out and risk facing penalties. Any employees with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance.”

The farm, which is located in Boneo on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, received complaints to Fair Work from the three workers after extended underpayments, prompting the FWO to investigate. The victims are all from non-English speaking countries, speaking Indonesian and Malay.

It is alleged that the farmhands were underpaid between February 2020, and February 2021. The loss of payments was recorded as around $37,000 for one worker and $27,000 for the other two.

The FWO said in a statement that allegedly “one worker was only paid for 10 out of 52 weeks worked; another was only paid for six out of 36 weeks; and the other was only paid for eight out of 41 weeks worked.”

This incident has hit the farm with various breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009 in that “It failed to pay the employees in full and at least monthly. It allegedly failed to pay minimum wages, casual loading, overtime and public holiday rates owed under the Horticulture Award 2010 and Horticulture Award 2020.”

The FWO is chasing penalties for A and G Lamattina and Sons Pty Ltd for alleged breaches of the Fair Work Act which could result in penalties of up to $66,600 per contravention. A directions hearing is listed in the Federal Circuit and Family Court in Melbourne on 2 October 2023.

Language and cultural barriers make it especially prevalent for companies to take advantage of migrant workers. Fair Work provides resources that can be accessed in multiple languages.

According to the FWO, 138 litigations involving visa holder workers, and $15 million in court-ordered penalties involving visa holders were processed in the six financial years to June 2023.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.