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News in Wyndham

Major Werribee South Farm Penalised Almost $160K for Underpaying Vulnerable Workers

Werribee South Farm Underpays Workers
  
   

The Federal Circuit and Family Court has imposed fines totalling $159,793 on a Werribee South farming operation, Lotus Farm Pty Ltd, for paying two workers less than the minimum wage, creating false records, and making unauthorized deductions totalling over $28,000.

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Lotus Farm, which specializes in growing tomatoes and cucumbers, was fined $130,806, while a penalty of $28,987 was levied against the company’s director, Son Thai. This action follows an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) initiated by complaints from two former employees who reported receiving below-legal flat rates as farm pickers and packers.

The company acknowledged it had not adhered to the mandated minimum wages, casual loadings, overtime, and holiday rates required under the Horticulture Industry Award 2010, resulting in one employee being underpaid by $22,364 and another by $6,167 between June 2017 and September 2020. Mr Thai admitted his involvement in these underpayments.

Further violations included issuing misleading pay slips, failing to provide pay slips, unlawful wage deductions, and not maintaining proper employment records, with Mr Thai also implicated in these breaches.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell emphasized the seriousness of the offences, particularly against vulnerable, non-English speaking migrant workers, noting that the hefty fines serve as a deterrent to prevent similar misconduct.

Deputy Chief Judge Patrizia Mercuri highlighted the grave nature of providing false pay slips to mislead the FWO, describing it as a deliberate obstruction of the investigative process.

The court’s penalties reflect its strong condemnation of the actions, recognizing the industry’s susceptibility to exploiting vulnerable workers. Both the underpayments and the procedural failings have since been addressed, with Lotus Farm and Mr Thai making efforts to improve compliance practices.

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