IN BREACH: A Cottonvale strawberry farm has been fined almost $70,000 for short-changing those on a 417 visa.
IN BREACH: A Cottonvale strawberry farm has been fined almost $70,000 for short-changing those on a 417 visa. Paul Donaldson

Cottonvale farm fined for ripping off workers

A GRANITE Belt farm has been fined almost $70,000 for ripping off 417 visa-holders, according to Fair Work Australia.

The Federal Circuit Court has imposed the penalties against the operators of a Newlands Rd, Cottonvale strawberry farm, which has a history of breaching workplace laws.

Farm owner Hour Him and his partner Tay-Duc Nguyen, who is also the farm's former operations manager, were each penalised $6400.

Him's company, I Luv Pty Ltd, was been penalised a further $56,000.

The Fair Work Ombudsman found six workers on 417 visas were underpaid $2601 in total.

This was discovered when the farm was audited, as part of the Fair Work Ombudsman's national Harvest Trail Inquiry, which was undertaken last year.

They found the six employees were underpaid between March 28 and April 10 last year.

In 2013, the Fair Work Ombudsman ordered I Luv Pty Ltd repay nine employees more than $21,000.

The company received two contravention letters and a formal Letter of Caution placing it n notice that further breaches could result in enforcement action.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the court's decision sent another clear message to rural employers that there would be no tolerance on the exploitation of overseas workers.

Judge Salvatore Vasta, who imposed the financial penalties, ordered I Luv Pty Ltd to commission an external audit of its compliance with workplace laws next year.

Ms James said it was unacceptable that Him, who was previously a member of Growcom Australia and the Queensland Strawberry Growers' Association, continued to disregard his responsibilities.

"We are conscious many fruit pickers are young overseas workers who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their rights, are reluctant to complain or face language barriers," Ms James said.

"It's important we are pro-active about ensuring they receive their full lawful entitlements."

Ms James said the Agency recently launched an Anonymous Report function which enables members of the community to alert the Fair Work Ombudsman to potential workplace issues.

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"While many employers want to do the right thing, there are some who seek to gain a competitive advantage by exploiting vulnerable workers, such as visa-holders," she said.