Media Alert: Dairy farm workers paid $4 below minimum wage seek back pay of stolen wages in Federal Court
The NUW is representing 17 workers who will today have their underpayment case heard in the Federal Court. The dairy farm workers were paid $18 per hour as casuals on working holiday visas during the 2016—2017 period, at which time the minimum wage was $22.12 to $22.86 per hour. The underpayment is confirmed by payslips provided by the employer, Australasian Global Dairies.The NUW seeks to recover stolen wages in full, totalling almost $170,000.
In response to underpayment proceedings the company has launched an unusual defence, now claiming the workers in fact owe money to Australasian Global Dairies.
The company has retrospectively and unilaterally applied a rental charge for accommodation provided by the farm owner to the workers, which was advertised as free in the original job posting. The rent has been back-charged at $210 per employee per week, which is approximately four times the market rate for an equivalent property in the Warnambool region. The property was shared by up to eight people at a time, some sleeping on couches for weeks on end. Australasian Global Dairies alleges that rent money is owed even for weeks that employees did not stay in the accommodation.
The company is believed to be targeting non-English speaking workers on precarious visa arrangements.
Quotes attributable to Susie Allison,
Victorian Secretary National Union of Workers
“This Federal Court case serves as yet another example of a broken visa system in which vulnerable migrant workers are exploited by businesses attempting to push down labour costs. Regardless of a worker’s visa status it is always unacceptable and unlawful to pay below the minimum wage, and the NUW will continue to fight
for all workers who have had their wages stolen.”