In May 2015, the ABC Four Corners program ran “Slaving Away: The dirty secrets behind Australia’s fresh food”, a report into the exploitation of workers. The investigation uncovered gangs of black market workers run by unscrupulous labour hire contractors operating on farms and in factories around the country, likened to “slave labour”.
It was horrifying to watch when so many businesses strive to do the right thing. One of the companies named was a poultry processor providing chickens to major buyers such as Coles, Woolworths, KFC, Aldi and others who have now been investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO). In a 33-page report the FWO revealed:
- The company relied on verbal agreements to source its labour
- Employers or their associates, such as HR professionals and accountants, provided false or misleading records
- A large amount of work was performed “off the books”
- Non-compliance with industrial relations laws (e.g. underpaying wages, staff working excessive hours, etc.)
- Exploited labour pool mainly made up of workers on subclass 417 working holiday visas.
As a result, the company has now had to enter a 3 year compliance deed with the FWO that requires it to:
- Set aside $500,000 to reimburse unpaid workers
- Provide details of all labour-supply contractors plus copies of the passports of labour suppliers’ directors
- Ensure its contractors are independently audited to guarantee compliance with Australian workplace laws
- Digitise its timekeeping system
- Employee HR support workers at every processing plant including the appointment of a Mandarin-speaking HR representative
- Prepare industry and language-specific induction material for all workers
This list is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the conditions imposed on the company. Needless to say, there are customers who are no longer dealing with the company due to their own ethical sourcing policies.
No matter how big or small our primary industries business is, we need to ensure we are contributing to providing a compliant and ethical Australian supply chain. The FWO is continuing to investigate the wages and conditions in our fresh food supply chain and follow up on allegations of non-compliance of conditions of employing 417 visa holders.
Check to see if you are compliant by undertaking the Larosh HR Health Check Survey to receive your free “at a glance” report identifying your level of risk and key priorities.