Fair Work Ombudsman recovers more than $141,000 for New England North West workers

FAIR WORK FINDINGS: Ombudsman Natalie James handed down a report into the experiences of 417 working holiday visa holders. Photo: Jesse Marlow

FAIR WORK FINDINGS: Ombudsman Natalie James handed down a report into the experiences of 417 working holiday visa holders. Photo: Jesse Marlow

NEW figures reveal a significant number of workers in the New England North West have been getting a raw deal, with the Fair Work Ombudsman recovering more than $140,000 for local employees.

The Ombudsman recovered $141,409 for 104 employees in 2015/16 across a number of industries.

The vast majority of the recovery was returned to under a quarter of the underpaid employees in the region.

$137,156 was returned to just 25 workers, who raised a request for assistance from the workplace watchdog.

However, the region’s return is dwarfed in comparison to the overall figures for NSW in the same period.

A total $6,904,730 was recovered by the Fair Work Ombudsman across NSW for 2835 workers in 2015/16.

The figures come after the Ombudsman released a report into the experience of 417 working holiday visa-holders.

The inquiry was launched in 2014 following a cache of complaints to the Ombudsman from the visa-holders, with a series of allegations levelled at employment practices of the Baiada Group at three of its poultry plants, including Tamworth. Workers complained they were being underpaid, forced to work extremely long hours and required to pay high rents for overcrowded and unsafe employee accommodation.

The 417 visa is a temporary visa issued by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to young people who want to holiday and work in Australia.

The inquiry into the labour procurement practices of Baiada revealed the company had verbal agreements with an extensive list of labour-hire operators, which sourced most of its workers from pools of 417 working holiday visa-holders from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“In particular, the desire for a second year 417 visa can drive vulnerable workers to agree to work for below minimum entitlements and in some circumstances, enter into potentially unsafe situations,” Ombudsman Natalie James said.

The report made a raft of recommendations focused on bettering the regulatory framework, information, education, compliance and support.

“If we want sustainable outcomes, if we want to change behaviour over time, it requires genuine investment across a number of regulators and interest groups working together with a clear mission to close the loopholes being used by those deliberately exploiting visa-holders for profit,” Ms James said.

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