The Fair Work Ombudsman has alleged young backpackers were paid an average of $2 an hour to work at a Northern Territory mango business last year.
Some of the 12 international workers were allegedly paid nothing at all for weeks of work picking, weeding and pruning on farms on Darwin’s outskirts.
The ombudsman says it would take legal action against Vinai Chaipom who formerly ran The Mango Shop.
The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that Chaipom was educated about minimum Award rates in October 2015 when inspectors visited mango farms as part of the agency’s national Harvest Trail Inquiry. He faces maximum penalties ranging from $5400 to $10,800 per contravention. A directions hearing is scheduled for October 18.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says the alleged serious exploitation of vulnerable workers and the fact that Chaipom had been put on notice of the need to pay lawful minimum rates were significant factors in the decision to commence legal action. The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking a Court Order requiring him to back-pay the workers the money allegedly owed.
The Ombudsman is also finalising a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa after receiving allegations that some unscrupulous operators were exploiting backpackers. It recovered more than $3 million in underpaid wages and entitlements for 687 visa-holders last financial year.
“While many employers want to do the right thing, there are some who seek to gain a competitive advantage by exploiting vulnerable workers, such as visa-holders,” James said.