Story Fresh contractor outsourced underpaid workers

DOZENS of international students and working holiday visa-holders laboured on farms in the Darling Downs and Lockyer Valley and were underpaid thousands of dollars.

The overseas workers, from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Africa, France, Germany, Italy and the UK, were employed by labour contractor Team Search Harvesting.

They planted, weeded and picked lettuce on Story Fresh farms.

Story Fresh is a family-owned vegetable farming and processing business which supplies shredded lettuce to fast-food outlets in eastern Australia.

Story Fresh previously outsourced part of its workforce requirement to Team Search Harvesting, but has now severed its ties with the labour contractor.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said Story Fresh paid a contract price high enough for Team Search Harvesting to ensure its employees received minimum wages.

She said Team Search Harvesting paid its employees under a piece-rate agreement to pick lettuce, but the agreements were invalid, as they were not signed - and a flat rate of $15 for weeding and planting.

The Fair Work Ombudsman discovered the underpayment when it investigated a request for assistance from a former employee.

The worker was found to have been short-changed more than $3200.

Further inquiries by Fair Work inspectors as part of the Agency's national Harvest Trail Inquiry revealed more than 100 other workers had been underpaid.

A total of 107 casual employees were collectively short-changed a total of $15,892 between January 1, 2014 to July 30, 2015.

They included 49 international students, 35 overseas workers on the 417 working holiday visa and 11 overseas workers on spousal visas.

Instead of the flat $15 an hour they were paid, they should have received a casual hourly rate for normal work of $20.40 from July 1, 2013.

This increased to $21.09 from July 1, 2014 and $21.61 from July 1, 2015.

Team Search Harvesting has agreed to implement a range of measures to ensure future compliance with their workplace obligations.

As part of the agreement, the company will rectify all underpayments by March next year, introduce systems and processes to meet workplace requirements and send a letter of apology to affected employees.

It has fully reimbursed the employee who lodged a request for assistance and so far repaid $550 to the remaining underpaid workers.

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