The FWO found the business had underpaid 87 vulnerable visa holders on farms in Far North Queensland for over a year.
Qld company penalised over $100k for underpaying almost 90 workers
The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has secured a $106,430.63 penalty against a Queensland labour-hire company after it underpaid 87 vulnerable visa holders working on farms in Far North Queensland.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court imposed the penalty against NQ Powertrain Pty Ltd after it admitted to breaching workplace laws by underpaying vulnerable workers a total of $49,933 between December 2018 and May 2020.
The FWO investigated the firm after it received reports of potential non-compliance from the Queensland Labour Hire Licensing Compliance Unit.
The regulator found most of the underpayment amount, over $42,000, was due to NQ Powertrain making unlawful deductions from employees’ wages for accommodation and transport that exceeded the maximum lawfully allowable and causing underpayments to the workers’ entitlements under the Horticulture Award 2010.
The inspectors found over a dozen instances, where the company deducted above $1,000 more from a worker’s wages than was required to cover their accommodation costs.
The FWO also found the company had underpaid the workers their Sunday overtime rates, time-off-in-lieu entitlements, and minimum-engagement pay according to the award with the individual underpayments ranging from $17 to $2,041.
The workers were from countries including Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands and were employed by NQ Powertrain under the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program and supplied them on an on-hire basis to farms at locations near Cairns.
Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said employers in the agriculture sector, including labour-hire companies, that underpay vulnerable workers risked facing significant consequences.
“Making unlawful deductions from workers’ wages and failing to pay the correct minimum entitlements is unacceptable,” said Ms Parker.
“Improving compliance in the agriculture sector and protecting vulnerable workers like visa holders, who may be unaware of their rights or unwilling to speak up, continue to be top priorities for the FWO.”
NQ Powertrain rectified the underpayments in full after the FWO’s investigation while the company ceased trading in 2022.