The horticulture industry is a focus of Labour Hire Authority (LHA) engagement and compliance activities in 2023.
Horticulture employs thousands of workers in Victoria through labour hire providers and comprises around 10% of currently licensed providers. Unfortunately it is also an industry that has historically seen significant worker exploitation.
LHA has cancelled 52 labour hire licences in the horticulture industry, after uncovering non-compliance with legal obligations and poor worker accommodation conditions through its intelligence-led compliance program in 2022-23.
LHA has just commenced legal action against a Victorian horticulture company for allegedly operating without a labour hire licence. A Victorian horticulture provider was also successfully prosecuted in December 2022, resulting in the largest total penalty for breaches of labour hire licensing law in Australian history.
Issues in horticulture
The seasonal nature of horticulture work, such as fruit and vegetable picking, often means the industry engages a significant labour hire workforce.
In addition to complying with the Labour Hire Licensing Act 2018 (Vic), horticulture providers must ensure they:
- pay workers in line with the relevant award, including piece rate requirements
- meet recordkeeping obligations
- withhold/pay tax and make superannuation contributions for their workers
- comply with migration law when engaging workers on temporary visas
- remain transparent in the information they supply to LHA
- only place workers in clean, hygienic and safe accommodation, and do not make unreasonable deductions for accommodation from workers’ pay
- do not improperly engage workers as independent contractors.
Compliance with obligations
As well as breaching other laws and regulations, non-compliance with these obligations can result in licence refusal, suspension or cancellation.
LHA undertakes a range of compliance and enforcement activities to ensure providers meet their obligations to workers. Under the Act, LHA compliance officers may:
- enter and search premises in certain circumstances
- inspect, copy or take extracts of documents
- seek the assistance of other persons
- issue notices to produce information.
Workers, providers and hosts are also encouraged to report a problem if they experience mistreatment, or see unlicensed or unlawful behaviour by labour hire providers.
LHA is holding free information sessions around Victoria across 2023 to support labour hire businesses to understand and comply with their obligations. Providers in horticulture and other industries are encouraged to register to attend upcoming sessions in May.
“Unfortunately, the horticulture industry can be susceptible to worker exploitation – our focus is making sure labour hire providers do the right thing by their workers,” said Labour Hire Licensing Commissioner, Steve Dargavel.
“All businesses that provide or use labour services need to understand and comply with their obligations.”
“We have significant capabilities in intelligence, compliance and enforcement – there is nowhere to hide if you are breaking the law.”