Lockyer Valley workers underpaid more than $60,000

A QUEENSLAND labour hire operator has been penalised more than $100,000 after underpaying 144 Lockyer Valley workers.

Fair Work Ombudsman legal action, stemming from the national inquiry into exploitation of overseas workers on Australian farms, led to Ram Kumar being penalised $17,000 and his labour hire company Seasonal Farm Services Pty Ltd being penalised $85,000.

Mr Kumar admitted in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane that his company had underpaid the employees $60,780 between June 2014 and June 2015.

The man and his company also contravened record-keeping laws, including failing to keep any records for a further 70 employees who were paid piece rates.

The lack of records prevented the Fair Work Ombudsman from assessing whether employees had received their minimum lawful entitlements.

Judge Sal Vasta said he found the record-keeping contraventions to be "extremely serious" noting the impact it had on ascertaining the quantum of underpayment to the employees who were paid piece rates.

"The problem for the Fair Work Ombudsman was that there were no records as to the hours worked for the piece rate employees... This made the investigation extremely difficult," he said.

"Now, whilst that does mean that there is no evidence as to what was worked, it means that there is no way of ascertaining whether or not the breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009 were even more blatant than what the investigation discovered."

Seasonal Farm Services was investigated as part of the Fair Work National Harvest Trail Inquiry aimed at addressing non-compliance in the horticulture industry.

Fair Work inspectors found Seasonal Farm Services had underpaid the 144 employees after supplying them to pick and pack fruit and vegetables on farms in the Lockyer Valley. One of the employees also performed supervisor duties.

Most of the employees were from Asia, Europe and the United Kingdom who were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas, with three aged as young as 19.

A number of the employees were working for Seasonal Farm Services to become eligible to stay in Australia for two years on their 417 visas by undertaking 88 days specified work in a designated regional area and in certain industries in their first year.

The Harvest Trail Inquiry, started in August 2013 and due to report its findings later this year, was run alongside the Fair Work Ombudsman's recently completed Inquiry into the experiences of 417 working holiday visa-holders in Australia.


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