Mango employer fined for underpaying backpackers

The Australian, December 14, 2017

A rogue employer has been fined $25,412 for the “appalling” exploitation of foreign backpackers in the Northern Territory, paying them nothing or as little as $2.68 an hour to labour on mango farms.

Vinai Chaipom admitted underpaying 12 workers a total of $35,630 in just two month in 2015 and has not backpaid a cent of the money owed.

The Federal Circuit Court ordered Chaipom to backpay the workers in full in 30 days

He formerly ran a business trading as The Mango Shop, sourcing fruit from farms around Humpty Doo, and selling them from a roadside stall.

The 12 workers were employed for periods ranging from four days to just under eight weeks to do picking, weeding and pruning work on mango farms at Livingstone, Noomanah and Humpty Doo.

Four workers were paid nothing and eight were paid amounts ranging from $500 to $1000, the equivalent of between $2.68 and $4.77 an hour.

As casual employees they should have been paid minimum hourly rates ranging from $19.45 to $21.61. Individual underpayments ranged from $648 to $5119.

Most of the workers, as young as 19, were backpackers on 417 working holiday visas from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK and Taiwan.

Most camped on the mango farms while working for Chaipom.

The Fair Work Ombudsman said many had worked so they could apply for a second year on their 417 visas by satisfying the requirement to do 88 days’ paid work in a designated regional area and in certain industries in their first year.

Chaipom also failed to issue the backpackers with pay slips, leaving them with no proof of completing the picking work and hampering their ability to apply for a second year on their 417 visas.

He also contravened sham contracting laws by telling two of the employees they were independent contractors.

The contraventions occurred despite Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors having educated Chaipom about minimum Award rates in October 2015 when they visited mango farms as part of the Agency’s national Harvest Trail Inquiry.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the exploitation of vulnerable workers on Australian farms was completely unacceptable conduct.

“This type of appalling treatment of overseas workers on Australian farms is extremely concerning and the outcome of this matter should send a message to rogue operators like Chaipom that their actions have serious consequences,” Ms James said.

The ombudsman’s 417 visa-holder inquiry found the requirement to do 88 days of specified, regional paid work to qualify for a second-year visa was unintentionally creating an environment where some unscrupulous operators were exploiting overseas workers.

Ms James said it was important for 417 visa holders who take up employment in Australia to establish from the outset who their official employer is and that they will be paid lawful minimum rates and issued with pay slips.

“It is crucial for backpackers working on 417 visas to establish these basics from the outset because it can help them avoid entering into situations where they can be exploited and it can help them avoid difficulties applying for a second year on their visas,” Ms James said.

“Any worker who finds themselves in a situation where they are concerned they are being exploited or treated unfairly should contact the Fair Work Ombudsman for free advice and assistance as soon as possible.”