Zucco Farming Pty Ltd, which operates a stone fruit farm at Woorinen near Swan Hill, has been penalised $120,000 and the company’s sole director and part-owner Chris Zucco has been penalised a further $24,000, by the Federal Circuit Court.
The affected employees were Malaysian nationals on bridging visas when they were paid unlawfully low, flat rates for work performed at the farm in 2015 and 2016.
The workers were paid flat hourly rates of between $15.41 and $16.77 by Zucco Farming for all hours worked to pick fruit and perform pruning, packing and cleaning duties.
Under the Horticulture Award 2010 at the time, the workers were entitled to minimum ordinary rates, including casual loading, of $21.61 for all hours, except for public holidays when they were entitled to $38.90 per hour.
When one of them queried Mr Zucco as to why their pay slips listed a rate of $21 an hour and asked to be paid lawful rates, Mr Zucco informed them “I am not paying you $21… I do that just for my bookwork.”
Mr Zucco and his company also breached workplace laws by knowingly providing false and misleading records to inspectors that understated the number of hours worked by the employees and overstated the rate of pay of the employees. This gave the appearance that the two workers had been paid higher hourly rates than was actually the case.
Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors investigated Zucco Farming after receiving requests for assistance from the two workers.
Judge Anthony Kelly found that Mr Zucco and Zucco Farming had “made deliberate and conscious decisions to underpay the employees” and had “persistently attempted to deceive the FWO”.
“They deliberately sought to mislead the FWO, both before and after the proceeding had commenced,” Judge Kelly said.
“The nature of the contraventions and the circumstances in which they were committed are significant as evidencing the serious exploitation of employees and a deliberate falsification of records,” Judge Kelly said.
In addition to imposing the penalties, Judge Kelly has ordered Zucco Farming to display a workplace notice with details including key employee entitlements under the Horticulture Award 2010 and how to access the FWO’s Record My Hours app.