A Fair Work investigation into three cases is underway.
A Fair Work investigation into three cases is underway. Contributed

Unions allege 'dodgy practices' with foreign meatworkers

A MEATWORKS company near Ipswich is involved in a Fair Work investigation amid allegations foreign workers' rights were abused.

Labour hire company GOYX, through Greenmountain Food Processing at Coominya, is accused of not paying workers' entitlements.

Among a series of allegations about the abuse of workers rights, employees say they were allegedly charged $90 a week for a bedroom along with up to 12 other people in the same house.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating three individual complaints but unions fear there could be more affected workers who are too scared to come forward.

Some of the allegations relate to accommodation arrangements.
Some of the allegations relate to accommodation arrangements. Contributed

Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union organiser Warren Earle said the union had received allegations of underpayment and superannuation evasion.

"We heard a lot of stories about some dodgy practices going on but it's very hard to get the information out of the workers and for workers to come forward, especially foreign workers," he said.

"We've been having lots of issues with underpayments, wage theft and all that sort of stuff.

"What we expect is labour hire companies sub-contract out work and then if anything gets discovered that labour hire company runs away. Liability for any owed money or unpaid taxes gets lost.

"But laws are changing with accessible liability and the host employers in that they have to take a greater ownership of who they get and audit and scrutinise. It's too common now."

Mr Earle said three former Greenmountain workers made an application to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

"Many of the workers get worried and scared, they are in a foreign country, they don't have good language skills and this is all neat and tidy for them.

"They just want work, they're here for a short time and the money they are getting is good compared to where they come from. They don't see this as anything unusual."

The three applicants no longer work at the company.

Mr Earle said a number of alleged issues were raised with the union, including the misuse of ABNs when workers were not legitimate contractors, underpayment of minimum wage awards, unpaid overtime and tax not being paid.

Mr Earle said the employees were told to work two days unpaid to assess their ability, paid a $600 bond to keep their job for six months and were not given pay slips.

He said they were also charged for the Q-Fever vaccine.

Under the Work Health and Safety Act, employees must not impose a levy or charge on workers for anything done in relation to work health and safety.

"There was no superannuation paid, there was no payroll tax paid, there is wage theft, superannuation theft and theft from the taxpayers of Australia," Mr Earle said of the claims.

"The hourly rates of pay were not as bad as we have seen in the past but in many cases they were below award rates.

"You don't work for free for a start and then effectively they were putting a bond on committing to the job for six months."

Mr Earle said the labour hire company told workers they must live in one of seven homes at Fernvale, Lowood or Gatton.

A Fair Work investigation into three cases is underway.
A Fair Work investigation into three cases is underway. Contributed

"The first thing they were told is they have to move into one of the houses, you get the house and you get the work, it was made nice and easy for them. It was an easy fix for them, they got into one of the houses and they got work. There was a definite structure," Mr Earle said.

"There were up to 10 or 12 people in a home. Some of the people we spoke to could not get a bedroom so they slept on a couch for $70 a week or some slept on the floor.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman can only investigate so much of it but they will forward the information onto the appropriate authorities like fire services and the ATO."

Mr Earle said in most investigations of foreign worker rights, labour hire companies held accountability.

GOYX was not able to contacted for comment and searches show the company is no longer active.

A Fair Work Ombudsman spokesperson said as the investigation was ongoing, they were unable to comment.

'Working closely' with investigation

A MEATWORKS company at the centre of allegations of foreign worker rights abuse is working closely with Fair Work investigations.

Greenmountain Food processing general manager Jason Giddins said the company relied on foreign labour though independent labour hire providers. "We employ over 300 people in the Greenmountain Group and associated businesses, including those workers at the Coominya facility. The majority of them are Australians," he said.

Workers allege they were underpaid.
Workers allege they were underpaid. Contributed

"Without labour hire workers, the facility would not operate and would jeopardise the employment of all 300 workers. He said he was confident the personnel engaged through the labour hire providers were remunerated according to law.

"Greenmountain is not aware of any instances where any employees were not paid the correct rate, including for superannuation or overtime," he said.

"Audits include assessing the companies' compliance with local laws and regulations, including laws relating to the engagement of its workforce.

"During the audits, a review is undertaken of specific Greenmountain personnel's engagement to as assess Greenmountain's compliance with workplace laws and regulations, including pay and the provision of pay slips to workers."

He said there had been no issues or non-compliances identified through the audit processes.

"Greenmountain is not aware of any instances where personnel have not been provided with proper pay slips," he said. "Greenmountain takes the investigation seriously and will assist FWO in the exercise of its statutory powers. The company no longer engages GOYX.

"The investigation does not pertain to any workers currently on site or working with Greenmountain."

Mr Giddins said accommodation arrangements were separate to Greenmountain and involved separate commercial dealings between the accommodation providers and the labour hire company. He said the company reimbursed employees for the cost of the Q-Fever vaccine upon the employees being engaged on a full time basis.

Working conditions undermined: Union

AMIEU organiser Warren Earle.
AMIEU organiser Warren Earle. Rob Williams

ALLEGATIONS of abuse of foreign workers rights are an example of labour hire agreements that are undermining working conditions in Australia, unions fear.

Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union organiser Warren Earle said dodgy agreements between employers and labour hire companies were affecting low wage growth.

"Years ago people used to be able to get away with it more easily but now it's more out there," he said.

"For us, that's a race to the bottom. For us, that says, hang on Australia, if we allow and turn a blind eye to this practice, and business model for business, there will be no accountability.

"As a union movement we believe the onset of labour hire has had a huge effect, especially across the manufacturing and meat industry, on the suppression of wages.

"You can't pick up a newspaper these days and not heat or talk about low wage growth. These are the sort of things that assist it."

Mr Earle said unions had worked extensively to campaign for workers rights for both domestic and foreign workers.

"There are chronic problems with labour hire. It's ripping apart the agreements we have put in place over many years," he said.

"Labour hire companies are popping up like mushrooms. They are everywhere, there is no regulation and they steel. That's why we campaigned for new labour hire regulations.

"When this is exposed, it sends a message. I am not after any heads.

There are several reasons why this is wrong. We shouldn't exploit people and there are laws in place to protect that."

Mr Earle, who has worked for the union for 10 years and as a butcher for 27 years, said unions supported foreign workers having the same rights and protection as Australian workers.

"We should be treating people that right way when they come to this country and under the laws we all work under," he said.

"It's a shame Australia does not take a stronger approach to this.

"We need the jobs, this is a meat city. It's taking opportunity away."

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