A LETTUCE farm contractor has signed a workplace pact after short-changing more than 100 overseas workers.
A Fair Work investigation found dozens of international students and working holiday visa-holders were among farm workers in regional Queensland who had been underpaid thousands of dollars.
The overseas workers — from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Africa, France, Germany, Italy and the UK — were employed by labour contractor Team Search Harvesting.
They planted, weeded and picked lettuce on Story Fresh farms in the Darling Downs and Lockyer Valley in Southeast Queensland.
Fast-food outlets using Story Fresh shredded lettuce include Subway and Hungry Jacks.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said Story Fresh paid a contract price that was high enough for Team Search Harvesting to ensure its employees received minimum wages, but found they were only paid a flat rate of $15, under invalid piece-rate agreements.
The workers should have received a casual rate of $21.61 an hour.
The FWO discovered the underpayment when it investigated a request for assistance from a former employee.
The worker was found to have been short-changed more than $3200.
The agency’s national Harvest Trail Inquiry has revealed 107 other casual employees were collectively short-changed a total of $15,892 between January 1, 2014 to July 30 last year.
These included 49 international students, 35 overseas workers on the 417 working holiday visa and 11 overseas workers on spousal visas.
Team Search Harvesting was also found to have been making “unlawful deductions” from employee wages.
The company took out $5 to cover the return daily bus trip to and from the properties the employee were working on without getting their written permission.
“Outsourcing is a legitimate business arrangement — but in my experience, in highly competitive markets for low-skilled work, it also increases the risk that workers will be underpaid, sometimes quite deliberately,” Ms James said.