Cut wages reimbursed

Benara Nurseries made unfair deductions from workers’ wages.
Benara Nurseries made unfair deductions from workers’ wages.

BENARA Nurseries says it has moved quickly to reimburse nearly $30,000 deducted from the wages of eight former employees as part of an agreement with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Fair Work investigated the Carabooda nursery after the employees from Taiwan and Hong Kong, who were in Australia on 417 working holiday visas, complained about deductions from their wages for rent from May to October 2014.

The workers each paid $450 a fortnight to live on Benara Nurseries� premises in Safari Place, where Fair Work said up to 16 people were housed in a four-bedroom property with one kitchen, two showers and four toilets.

The investigation found that while Benara Nurseries� parent company Quito Pty Ltd may have had a verbal agreement with workers to deduct rent from their wages, it was unlawful as there was no signed written agreement.

Quito agreed to pay nearly $30,000 to the former employees as part of an Enforceable Undertaking signed with Fair Work as an alternative to legal action.

Fair Work also requested that the company send a written apology to each of the employees and provide inspection reports demonstrating that its staff accommodation was fit-for-purpose and had the appropriate permits, licences and zoning approvals.

�We accept responsibility for this error and have paid back all rent monies deducted in full,� managing director Gavin James said.

�I have also written personally to each of the eight people to sincerely apologise.�

Fair Work said the former workers complained about the accommodation�s cramped conditions, lack of privacy, unreasonably high rent and odour from the nearby fertiliser factory but Mr James refuted these claims.

�The houses are fully furnished with laundry and cooking facilities, flat screen televisions, linen, free Wi-Fi and costs cover cleaning products and utilities such as gas, water and electricity,�he said.

�On-site accommodation was offered as a convenient option for the workers, which saved them on daily transport costs.

�An independent assessor has verified to the satisfaction of the Ombudsman that our on-site accommodation for workers who choose to stay there is of a good, clean and suitable condition.�

Mr James said overseas workers were �a necessary part� of his business.

�We highly value our more than 325 employees, 12 of which are currently overseas workers on holiday visas. We are committed to the fair treatment of all our staff,� he said.

As part of the undertaking, the business must also engage an external accounting professional to audit its workplace practices each year for the next two years and implement a training program for staff responsible for human resources, recruitment and payroll functions.

�The agreement the agency has struck with the company focuses on ongoing behavioural change to ensure its future compliance with Federal workplace laws,� Ombudsman Natalie James said.