Fair Work inspectors to audit cherry farms

TEN randomly-selected cherry farms in Orange will be audited by Fair Work inspectors later this month, after previous cherry seasons were marred by underpayment complaints from pickers.

About 100 pickers who worked on farms in Orange last season were embroiled in a payment dispute between a local orchardist and employment contractor Pasifika Resources.

The Fair Work Ombudsman’s investigation into Pasifika is still ongoing almost 12 months later.

But Orange is not the only place where fruit pickers, especially young workers and backpackers, have lodged complaints about underpayment.

Up to 65 farms across the country will also be audited.

NSW Farmers vice-president Peter Darley said this year most Orange cherry growers were employing pickers direct instead of using a contractor.

“With the incidents last year it’s probably put the appropriate authorities on the front foot doing routine checks,” he said.

The Fair Work inspectors will check the compliance of the cherry farms and ensure all obligations are met, including pay and piecework rates and agreements.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said common non-compliance issues include failure to pay the minimum hourly rate, make written piecework agreements, keep records, provide detailed pay slips and Fair Work information to employees, and unlawful deductions from wages for accommodation and travel.

“We are conscious that many fruit pickers are young and foreign workers who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their entitlements or reluctant to complain,” Ms James said.

“So it’s important we are proactive about ensuring they are receiving their full lawful entitlements.”

Mr Darley said it was easy for employers to do the right thing even for backpackers with a visa who needed pay slips as proof they were working.

If any of the farms are found to be non-compliant, Fair Work inspectors prefer to assist growers “voluntarily rectify” the issues and educate them, Ms James said.

But in cases of “serious, deliberate or repeated contraventions” or for growers who do not co-operate, the inspectors may take further action ranging from a formal letter of caution to the possibility of legal proceedings.

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