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The owner of a small hardware business in Tasmania’s Queenstown, is facing a possible appearance with the Federal Court after an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found that he allegedly underpaid many backpackers. It is alleged he paid one Italian worker $1.35 an hour.
The business owner, Harold Jackson, often hires overseas workers who hold 417 and 457 working holiday visas. Jackson hires staff by posting ads on Gumtree, which is a popular employment website among foreign workers.
The backpacker in question is of Italian background and is said to be friends with Jackson’s fiancée, who complained to the FWO after being underpaid. However, Jackson argues that the staff member put pressure on him when she requested him to sign off on her 457 visa. This visa requires a foreign worker to “work 88 days of specified work in a designated regional area and work in certain industries”. Jackson claims the employee had only worked for a period of two weeks when she requested her papers to be signed off.
Jackson said “she came here as a guest of my fiancée, who is Italian, I said no, I can’t just sign people off like that”. “I think she was here two-and-a-half weeks before I told her to leave. It was a horrible experience.”
The FWO alleges that Jackson hired many previous overseas workers and failed to pay them the correct hourly wage. This lead to huge underpayments and Jackson is perceived to be taking advantage of vulnerable employees with limited to no English speaking skills. It is alleged that Jackson’s Gumtree advertisements encouraged foreign workers with this enticing work description: “88 day second year work visa sign off is available”.
It is claimed that Jackson owes numerous backpackers, a total of $42,985 in back payments, along with fines and court fees. “Those b*****ds,” Jackson said. “It’s not true. The worst thing is to defend it is going to cost me an arm and a leg. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars and they know small business people like myself don’t have that money.”
If you are a small business owner and you have hired workers on international working visas and you are unsure if you have the right policies and procedures in place to protect your business against employee claims, call Employsure today on 1300 651 415 or fill in the form below.
Employsure can implement the correct processes to ensure that underpayments are avoided and employment procedures meet the legal requirements laid out in the Fair Work Act. We are ready to take you call and the immediate first steps in protecting your business.
*Information sourced via HC Online website.