Border force raids uncover exploited workers from Solomon Islands and PNG on farms in Queensland and Western Australia
A recidivist Perth couple who ran a cleaning company have been fined more than half a million dollars for the deliberate, repeated, and systematic exploitation of Taiwanese workers, while raids by the Australian Border Force have uncovered exploited workers from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea on farms in Queensland and Western Australia.
Further evidence of the systematic exploitation of foreign workers across Australia follows a report last month from two universities that found one-third of backpackers, and a quarter of international students in Australia were being routinely ripped off by employers paying half the minimum wage.
The federal parliament is considering a modern slavery act to combat exploitative work practices, particularly of vulnerable and foreign workers.
In the federal circuit court, Catherine Paino-Povey was fined $77,400 and her husband Mark Povey $72,240 for exploiting three Taiwanese workers employed by their cleaning company Commercial and Residential Cleaning Group. The company was fined $361,200.
It was the second time Paino-Povey and Povey had been fined for deliberately exploiting local and overseas workers. In 2013, another cleaning company they ran was fined $343,860 for nearly identical offences.
Judge Antoni Lucev said the couple appeared to have simply repeated the same illegal practices, finding both cases demonstrate similar circumstances and a similar mode of operation.
And there was evidence, Lucev said, the pair were still involved in the cleaning industry.
Lucev said the workers were vulnerable: in Australia on temporary visas, dependent on employers, with little knowledge of labour laws and limited English.
It is open to infer that the respondents actions towards the employees formed part of a deliberate business strategy to engage vulnerable employees, refuse to pay them during their first few weeks of employment, refuse to pay them their full entitlements when they fell due and then refuse to pay outstanding wages owed to the employees on the termination of the employment relationship.
Beyond the inherent seriousness of the respondents failure to afford the employees basic minimum employment entitlements in the form of regular wages and entitlements, there are significant aggravating factors in this case, including the deliberate and repeated nature of the respondents conduct, the prior similar conduct and the vulnerability of the employees.
The three workers were underpaid a total of $11,511. One of the workers was paid just a third of what she was entitled to over three months. She gave evidence she had to borrow money from a friend, and ate only one meal a day in order to pay her rent.
Lucev said the couple deliberately sought out vulnerable employees to exploit. In the courts view, the more vulnerable the employee, the more likely it was that the corporation and Ms Paino-Povey would underpay them.
The couple has refused to correct underpayments to workers, and did not cooperate with the court or regulator.
The respondents have failed to show any form of contrition or intention to alter their behaviour which suggests a lack of responsibility for their actions, and that the likelihood of further contraventions is high.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the repeated and blatant exploitation of vulnerable overseas workers was abhorrent and would not be tolerated.
It is extremely frustrating to encounter such callous, recidivist, exploitative conduct in the community, James said.
Those employers who think they can profit from blatant exploitation of vulnerable workers need to get the message that we are committed to pursuing you to the full extent of the law to ensure you receive the punishment you deserve.
Also in recent weeks, the Australia Border Force executed a series of Taskforce Cadena-related raids on farms in Queensland and Western Australia, targeting labour hire intermediaries selling illegal farm labour.
In Gatton, Queensland, a labour hire intermediary from PNG was detained, while 13 workers from PNG and the Solomons, suspected of working in breach of their visa conditions, were found. In Manjimup, WA, one suspected labor hire intermediary was detained, while nine people were likely to have their visas cancelled. In Pemberton, four people working illegally were located and detained.
The exploitation of foreign workers can have a lasting negative impact on Australian communities and individuals, ABF acting commander Garry Low said. This can include … the closure of small businesses due to unfair competitive advantage gained by competitors not complying with the law.
Last months report Wage Theft in Australia, by academics at UTS and UNSW, found significant numbers of the more than 4,300 backpackers and international students interviewed for the report faced conditions that could amount to criminal forced labour.
A parliamentary inquiry into a Modern Slavery Act based on the UKs 2015 legislation is due to report to parliament in coming months. Its interim report recommended Australia enact a Modern Slavery Act.