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Lotus Farm fined for underpaying workers and falsifying records

Lotus Farm – a Werribee South, Victoria farm business – has been ordered to pay $159,793 in penalties by the Federal Circuit and Family Court for underpaying two employees and making unlawful deductions. The company has also been accused of falsifying records to conceal the underpayments.

The penalties include $130,806 imposed on Lotus Farm and $28,987 on one of its directors, Son Thai. 

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) investigated the company after receiving requests for assistance from two former employees who were non-English speakers. The employees alleged that they were paid unlawfully low flat hourly pay rates while working as pickers and packers at the farm.

Lotus Farm admitted that it failed to meet the minimum pay rates, casual loading, overtime and public holiday penalty rates set out in the Horticulture Industry Award 2010.

The company underpaid one worker $22,364 and the other $6167 for work periods between June 2017 and September 2020. Thai admitted to being involved in the underpayments.

Lotus Farm also provided false or misleading pay slips to the FWO, gave no payslips to the workers, made unlawful deductions from one worker’s pay and failed to make and keep records as required. Thai was also involved in these contraventions.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Michael Campbell welcomed the decision, saying that the penalties send a clear message that those who attempt to cover up significant underpayments, including with false payslips, will be found out and face costly consequences. 

“The exploitation of vulnerable, non-English speaking migrant workers is not something we tolerate,” said Campbell. 

Deputy chief judge Patrizia Mercuri described failing to provide the employees with pay slips and then providing false pay slips to the FWO as “particularly serious”.

“The provision of misleading information was clearly a deliberate act and had the potential to derail or extend the investigation,” said Mercuri. 

In imposing the penalties, the deputy chief judge noted the need to reflect “the court’s strong disapproval” of them.

She concluded: “This is particularly so given the nature of the industry and the vulnerability of the affected employees.” 

The underpayments have been rectified in full.

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