Backpackers over-represented in underpayment disputes

The Fair Work Ombudsman resolved more than 800 disputes for 417 visa holders in the past financial year. Photo: Louie DouvisBackpackers on 417 working holiday visas make up a small percentage of workers in Australia, but are over-represented in complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

In 2015-16, the Ombudsman resolved 855 workplace disputes involving overseas workers on the 417 working holiday visa.

This represents 45 per cent of the 1894 workplace disputes involving overseas workers on all types of visas resolved by the Ombudsman. #backpackers= 0.1% of workers but 6% of our complaints and 45% of all #visa holder complaints.[email protected]_caldwell— Natalie James (@NatJamesFWO) September 21, 2016

The 417 visa disputes made up six per cent of the of the 14,329 workplace disputes the Fair Work Ombudsman resolved across the country in 2015-16.

A Fair Work Ombudsman spokesman said it had a strong focus on protecting the rights of overseas workers, including backpackers.

“We know they can be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their workplace rights or are reluctant to complain,” the spokesman said.

“We are conscious that youth, language and cultural barriers can also create difficulties for overseas workers.”

The spokesman said overseas workers contributed to the labour market by providing specialised skills, knowledge and innovation.

“And a more flexible labour supply, particularly in industries where employers have difficulty attracting domestic workers,” he said.

“We want the work experience of an international student in Australia to be a positive one.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Circuit Court has penalised the operators of a strawberry farm on Newlands Rd at Cottonvale, near Stanthorpe, almost $70,000.

Farm owner Hour Him and his partner Tay-Duc Nguyen, the farm’s former operations manager, were each ordered to pay $6400 – and Him’s company, I Luv Pty Ltd, was ordered to pay a further $56,000.

The Fair Work Ombudsman discovered that six overseas workers were underpaid a total of $2601 when the farm was audited last year as part of the agency’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, 2015.

It was not the first time that workers on the property were underpaid.

In 2013, the Fair Work Ombudsman required I Luv Pty Ltd to 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.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the court’s decision sent a clear message to rural employers that exploitation of overseas workers would not be tolerated.

Judge Salvatore Vasta also agreed to make additional orders aimed at overhauling workplace practices on the farm. These 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 Fair Work Ombudsman with a report on the findings, including steps taken to rectify any non-compliance.

Him and Nguyen were instructed to do training in relation to their workplace obligations.

I Luv Pty Ltd must register with the My Account service at 苏州美甲美睫培训学校fairwork.gov419论坛 and use the educational self-help tools for employers.

Ms James said the Fair Work Ombudsman was devoting considerable resources to ensuring the many farms around the country 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 proactive 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 after receiving allegations that some unscrupulous operators were exploiting backpackers.

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