A LABOUR contractor in the Scenic Rim has underpaid more than 90 Korean backpackers who were employed to sort and pick carrots at Tarome.
The backpackers, employed by Boonah Packing Pty Ltd, were in the country on 417 working holiday visas.
Boonah Packing Pty Ltd supplied labour to one of Australia's leading carrot producers, Scott Moffat & Co, trading as Moffatt Fresh Produce who supply carrots to major supermarket chains like Woolworths and Aldi.
A Fair Work investigation, launched after an employee complained he was underpaid, found the price paid by Moffatt to Boonah Packing was sufficient for the labour-hire contractor to meet its obligations to pay minimum wages under the Horticulture Award 2010.
However it also found Boonah Packing had short-changed the original complainant by $512 and had underpaid another 95 causal workers, 93 of whom were Korean visa-holders, by $16,198. 96 between July last year and January this year.
As casual employees, they were entitled to receive $21.61 for ordinary hours and $38.90 an hour on public holidays.
The workers were sometimes paid a flat rate of $21.08 and "piece rates", at other times.
A piece rate is where an employee gets paid for the amount picked or packed.
However, Boonah Packing did not have written piecework agreements in place, and therefore employees should have been paid minimum hourly rates.
Boonah Packing also contravened workplace laws by failing to keep proper records, which prevented Fair Work inspectors from assessing whether some employees had received their full lawful entitlements.
Fair Work pointed out that the company was cooperative during the investigation.
Boonah Packing has begun paying back its employees and entering into an Enforceable Undertaking (EU) with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the EU was aimed at encouraging behavioural change and future compliance with federal workplace laws.
"We use Enforceable Undertakings where we have formed a view that a breach of the law has occurred, but where the employer has acknowledged this, accepted responsibility and agreed to co-operate and fix the problem,'' she said.
Ms James said fruit and vegetable growers rely heavily on seasonal labour - and these workers are often visa-holders from non-English speaking backgrounds who may be unaware of their workplace rights.
"Outsourcing is a legitimate business arrangement - but in my experience, in highly competitive markets for low-skilled work, it also increases the risk that workers will be underpaid, sometimes quite deliberately," she said.
Boonah Packing has agreed to implement a range of measures to ensure future compliance with their workplace obligations.
As part of the agreement, the company will continue to try to locate the only three workers it is yet to back-pay.
The workers are owed a total of $40.
The company will also introduce systems and processes to meet workplace requirements and send a letter of apology to affected employees.
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