Labor hire companies leave workers $100 a week after inappropriate deductions, minister says

The federal agriculture minister has hit out at labor hire companies that leave foreign workers with just $100 a week.

David Littleproud said it was not appropriate for workers to end up with such a small take-home pay after their employer made deductions for things like accommodation, transport and visas.

“There is a small cohort in agriculture, like in all industries, that is doing the wrong thing that is cutting corners,” he said.

“And we’re doing that with increased regulation on labor hire companies and increasing penalties to make sure that if they do the wrong thing, we’ll take them out.”

David Littleproud says the government is increasing penalties for companies that mistreat workers.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Jacqui St.)

Mr Littleproud was asked about the deductions after a Senate inquiry heard that one of Australia’s largest labor hire companies had made hundreds of dollars in deductions from paychecks weeklies of Pacific workers.

The investigation was also told that during certain weeks some workers employed by MADEC ended up with $100 after deductions.

MADEC is a not-for-profit, accredited employer under the federal government’s Pacific Worker Program.

Its chief executive, Laurence Burt, told the inquiry that weekly deductions were made to recover several costs.

“In the first 10 weeks after a person arrives in Australia under the Seasonal Worker Scheme, they go through a process of paying for international airfare, visa fees, advance payment in cash and other expenses upon arrival…

“It spread out over the first few weeks of engagement and recovered on a weekly basis.

“In addition to this, there are weekly living expenses such as housing, transport and health insurance which are also recovered from workers’ wages each week by their approved employer as well.”

Mr. Burt also spoke of two farm workers who between them averaged $390 take-home pay a week for their first 12 weeks of employment.

“Which is well beyond the target net benefit that was set out in the letter of offer the workers accepted before leaving Samoa.”

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Labor Senator Tony Sheldon, who chaired the inquiry, said he was “flabbergasted to think that workers can take home as little as $100 a week and the system does not hold these employers accountable”.

“[MADEC is] one of the biggest operators of labor recruitment in agribusiness, agriculture industry and he needs to turn around and make sure he is doing the right thing,” a- he declared.

“But the problem is that the people who work in competition with them have the same practices.

Last year, the federal government announced a new visa to recruit foreign workers to work on farms.

He had initially suggested that the first visa workers would arrive last year, but no country has yet agreed to take part in the scheme.

Last month, Mr Littleproud said it was up to Foreign Secretary Marise Payne to end the delays in implementing the new visa.

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