Working holiday visa holders short-changed in Australia

Three Chinese backpackers, all 417 working holiday visa-holders, were short-changed their minimum hourly rates of pay while fruit-picking for five months last year on a property at Murchison, regional Victoria.

They have been reimbursed a total of $9,800, an average of $3,266 each, after turning to the Fair Work Ombudsman for assistance after leaving their jobs.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the employer was underpaying casual wage rates, but after discussions with Fair Work inspectors, agreed to reimburse the former workers.

This and other recent cases highlight the importance of Goulburn Murray employers taking the time to ensure they understand their workplace obligations, she says.

She revealed that local employers had been required to reimburse about $70,000 to underpaid workers following recent inquiries.

“A small mistake left over time can easily result in a hefty bill for back-payment of wages – so it is important employers get it right in the first place,” she said.

For example, a café at Cobram has also been required to return $25,600 to 11 of its staff who were found to have been underpaid over 12 months.

Waiting staff, cooks and apprentices were underpaid their minimum hourly rates and penalty rates for weekend, overtime, public holiday and shift work.

The underpayments occurred as a result of the employer’s failure to pass on annual increases to minimum pay rates and pay some workers under the correct Modern Award.

Other recent recoveries include, $9,800 for five farm hands at a Kyabram property not paid their casual loading entitlements, $9,200 for 11 employees at a Broadford retail business underpaid their minimum hourly rates, early morning penalty rates, laundry allowances and paid rest break entitlements, $7,600 for four apprentices at an Alexandra business underpaid their minimum hourly rates, and $5,400 for a truck driver at Shepparton underpaid his night penalty rates over 12 months.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is currently running a three-year program called the Harvest Trail to ensure seasonal workers, many of them backpackers on 417 working holiday visas, receive their full entitlements.

The ABC’s Four Corners program recently revealed underpayment, exploitation and terrible working conditions for migrant workers on farms and in a range of industries, including vegetable and fruit farms, and chicken factories.

The workers are hired under 417 working visas, by labour hire companies alleged to be skimming off millions of dollars in unpaid wages.

From July 2016, backpackers and others on working holidays in Australia will lose access to the tax-free threshold and have to pay 32.5 cents in tax for every dollar they make. You can find more about the change here.