Queensland dairy farm operator in court

The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced legal action in the Federal Circuit Court against the operator of a dairy farm in the Toowoomba region, in Queensland.

Facing court is Mr Mark Leonard Hess who operates a dairy farm business trading as M.L. Hess Dairy Producer at Maclagan.

The regulator investigated after receiving a request for assistance from a worker, a working holiday visa-holder from France, who had been employed on a casual basis to do general farm work, house cleaning and to milk and feed cows.

A Fair Work Inspector issued a Compliance Notice to Mr Hess in February this year after forming a belief Mr Hess had failed to pay the employee correctly for work he had performed between August and November, 2019.

The inspector believed the employee had been underpaid casual minimum rates and was not paid penalty rates for public holiday work in accordance with the Pastoral Award 2010.

The FWO alleges Mr Hess, without reasonable excuse, failed to comply with the Compliance Notice which required him to calculate and back-pay the worker’s entitlements.

In line with the FWO’s proportionate approach to regulation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FWO made several attempts to secure voluntary compliance before commencing legal action.

The FWO also alleges that Mr Hess also breached workplace laws by failing to issue pay slips to the employee and failing to keep records of the employee’s hours of work.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the regulator would continue to enforce workplace laws and take businesses to court where lawful requests are not complied with.

“Under the Fair Work Act, Compliance Notices are important tools used by inspectors if they form a belief that an employer has breached workplace laws.”

“Where employers do not comply with our requests, we will take appropriate action to protect employees. A court can order the business to pay penalties in addition to back-paying workers,” Ms Parker said. “Any employees with concerns about their pay or entitlements should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free assistance.”

The FWO is seeking a penalty against Mr Hess and a court order to comply with the Compliance Notice, which includes rectifying any underpayments in full, plus superannuation and interest.

Mr Hess faces maximum penalties per contravention ranging from $6,300 to $13,320. A directions hearing has been listed in the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane on 13 November 2020.

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