Fair Work Ombudsman pursues charges against Lotus Farm Pty Ltd for significant wage discrepancies and record falsification.
The allegations include underpayment of two employees, amounting to over $28,000, falsification of records to conceal the underpayments, and unauthorized deductions.
Lotus Farm Pty Ltd and one of its directors, Son Thai, are being taken to court. The primary agricultural products cultivated by the company are tomatoes and cucumbers.
The Fair Work Ombudsman conducted an investigation into the matter after receiving assistance requests from two former employees who claimed to have received unreasonably low hourly rates while working as pickers and packers at the farm. These employees had non-English speaking backgrounds.
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, Lotus Farm allegedly underpaid the two adult employees, who spoke Vietnamese, a total of $28,530.82 for the work they performed between June 2017 and September 2020. The ombudsman alleges that this occurred because the casual workers were paid hourly rates between $13 and $14, which were below the minimum rates stipulated by the Horticulture Award 2010.
Lotus Farm’s director, Son Thai, supposedly provided 21 pay slips for one of the employees, indicating that they worked 15 hours per week and were paid the appropriate amount for those hours. However, the Fair Work Ombudsman claims that the employee was actually paid the lower rates and worked more hours than what the payslips reflected.
The ombudsman further alleges that Lotus Farm failed to pay the minimum wages and casual loading owed to both employees. Additionally, one employee was reportedly underpaid for overtime and public holiday penalties.
The ombudsman also asserts that unlawful deductions were made from one employee’s wages. It is claimed that the company knowingly or recklessly presented false records to a Fair Work Inspector, failed to maintain the required records, and neglected to provide pay slips to the employees.
Son Thai is implicated in these contraventions. Sandra Parker, the Fair Work Ombudsman, emphasized the significance of this litigation as a warning to any employer in the agricultural sector who is disregarding workplace laws. She stated that compliance improvement and the protection of vulnerable workers in the agriculture industry are priorities for the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Employers who underpay their workers and use deceptive records will be identified and may face substantial penalties. Parker encouraged employees with concerns about their pay or entitlements to seek free advice and assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman, available in their preferred language.
The Fair Work Ombudsman intends to apply the reverse onus provisions of the Fair Work Act, requiring the company to disprove the underpayment allegations due to the alleged failure to maintain accurate records.
Penalties are being sought against Lotus Farm and Son Thai for the alleged contraventions of the Fair Work Act.
The company may face penalties of up to $66,600 per contravention, while Son Thai may face penalties of up to $13,320 per contravention. A directions hearing is scheduled to take place on August 7, 2023, at the Federal Circuit and Family Court in Melbourne.