Darling Downs farmers to remain vigilant

RECENT raids targeting illegal farming operations in the region have prompted a warning from the Fair Work Ombudsman for horticulture businesses to remain vigilant.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said she wanted business operators who employed backpackers to be wary of "offers" of labour from labour hire providers who turned up at their properties.

In September last year the operators of a strawberry farm near Stanthorpe were penalised almost $70,000 and ordered to overhaul their workplace practices after legal action by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The farm was also targeted by a multi-agency raid last month which uncovered 27 illegal foreign workers.

Ms James said workers engaged on piece rates must be provided with a piecework agreement in writing that was set at a rate that would allow an average competent worker to pick enough to earn 15 per cent above the hourly minimum, with some dodgy operators setting rates far lower.

"As one can reasonably assume the labour hire provider is taking a cut of the agreement with the grower, the question growers need to ask is 'how much are the workers receiving?'," she said.

Ms James said offers of suspiciously low rates exploited young, vulnerable backpackers, many from non-English speaking backgrounds with little understanding of workplace rights.

"Growers and hostel operators who enter into contracts with unscrupulous labour-hire companies can be held liable, as an accessory under the Fair Work Act, if they knowingly enter into sub-standard and illegal arrangements," she said.

For more go to fairwork.gov.au.