By CLARE COLLEY
THE employment contractor at the centre of an ongoing payment dispute with cherry pickers in Orange is under investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Tensions between pickers and Pasifika Resources have been mounting since Christmas after complaints from workers waiting weeks for payment.
A local university student, who declined to be named, is owed close to $1000 from Pasifika Resources for three weeks’ work.
He was referred to Pasifika for cherry picking through employment company Verto.
The student said he and about 100 pickers stopped work at the Nashdale orchard on December 29 after concerns they would not be paid.
He did not return to the orchard and is still waiting for payment after contacting Pasifika numerous times but he said many of his co-workers were worse off.
He took his complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
“The backpackers were telling me they had no food,” he said.
“I’d say they’re being exploited. The backpackers aren’t really wanting to stay and fight for it they want to move on.”
The student is still at a loss as to why he hasn’t been paid but said the contractors were disorganised from the start.
“It’s pretty unprofessional when people need the money,” he said.
“I just walked off like a lot of people did and started looking for other picking work in Orange.”
Verto chief executive officer Bernadette O’Connor said the company will not refer any workers to an employer who is known to be under investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
She would not say how many workers were referred to Pasifika for the harvest season or how many complaints Verto had received “due to privacy laws”.
Anna Berry from Pasifika Resources did not return the Central Western Daily’s calls for comment.
A Fair Work Ombudsman spokesman confirmed an investigation into underpayment complaints against Pasifika Resources had started but could not comment further.
The spokesman said any workers who have been underpaid or treated unfairly at work should contact the Fair Work infoline on 13 13 94 for free advice and assistance.
A free interpreter service is available by calling 13 14 50.
Information is also available at www.fairwork.gov.au.