Migrant farm workers launch landmark legal claim in Australia for gross underpayment Migrant farm workers launch landmark legal claim in Australia for gross underpayment

Migrant farm workers launch landmark legal claim in Australia for gross underpayment
07 Aug 2018

Migrant farm workers from Vanuatu have launched a landmark AUS$10 million (US$7.4 million) legal claim against their former employer in Australia for gross underpayment and mistreatment.

In May, The Sunday Age revealed that 50 workers from Vanuatu had worked in shocking conditions on a farm near Shepparton, while earning as little as AUS$8 (US$5.90) an hour. Some employees even reported bleeding from the nose and ears after chemical exposure while picking tomatoes at MCG Fresh Produce.

The workers were brought to Australia by Brisbane-based labour hire firm Agri Labour, which has strongly denied the allegations against it. The federal government has suspended Agri Labour from bringing new workers to Australia under its Seasonal Worker Programme, and the Fair Work Ombudsman has also launched an investigation. 

Tulia Roqara, one of five workers who brought the case, alleges she was underpaid by as much as AUS$11,000 (US$8,098) for four months’ work, as Agri Labour both underpaid her and made unlawful deductions from her wage.

After money was deducted for rent, food, airfares, transport and visas, the claim alleges, she was paid as little as AUS$3.17 (US$2.33) an hour. The five workers making the claim attest they were underpaid by up to AUS$20,000 (US$14,724) each for just four months’ work.

Agri Labour’s Casey Brown told the Sydney Morning Herald that his company had been co-operating fully with investigations into its conduct and described the claims against it as “false”. 

"We are currently awaiting the findings of the Fair Work Ombudsman, and we remain confident that there will be no significant adverse findings against us," he said. 

The Protecting Vulnerable Workers amendments to the Fair Work Act, which were introduced nearly a year ago after a series of wage scandals, allow for massive penalties against employers that breach the law. The penalties increased by up to 10 times.

 Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance business journalist. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Guardian, the Times, Forbes and the BBC.

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Migrant farm workers from Vanuatu have launched a landmark AUS$10 million (US$7.4 million) legal claim against their former employer in Australia for gross underpayment and mistreatment.

In May, The Sunday Age revealed that 50 workers from Vanuatu had worked in shocking conditions on a farm near Shepparton, while earning as little as AUS$8 (US$5.90) an hour. Some employees even reported bleeding from the nose and ears after chemical exposure while picking tomatoes at MCG Fresh Produce.

The workers were brought to Australia by Brisbane-based labour hire firm Agri Labour, which has strongly denied the allegations against it. The federal government has suspended Agri Labour from bringing new workers to Australia under its Seasonal Worker Programme, and the Fair Work Ombudsman has also launched an investigation. 

Tulia Roqara, one of five workers who brought the case, alleges she was underpaid by as much as AUS$11,000 (US$8,098) for four months’ work, as Agri Labour both underpaid her and made unlawful deductions from her wage.

After money was deducted for rent, food, airfares, transport and visas, the claim alleges, she was paid as little as AUS$3.17 (US$2.33) an hour. The five workers making the claim attest they were underpaid by up to AUS$20,000 (US$14,724) each for just four months’ work.

Agri Labour’s Casey Brown told the Sydney Morning Herald that his company had been co-operating fully with investigations into its conduct and described the claims against it as “false”. 

"We are currently awaiting the findings of the Fair Work Ombudsman, and we remain confident that there will be no significant adverse findings against us," he said. 

The Protecting Vulnerable Workers amendments to the Fair Work Act, which were introduced nearly a year ago after a series of wage scandals, allow for massive penalties against employers that breach the law. The penalties increased by up to 10 times.

 Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance business journalist. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Guardian, the Times, Forbes and the BBC.

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Australia loses AUS$8bn annually in undeclared income tax

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Australia's tax system revealed

 

 

 

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