An Australian mango farmer has got an over 19,000-U.S.-dollar fine for underpaying foreign staff.
Vinai Chaipom, a mango grower based on the outskirts of Darwin in the Northern Territory, was fined 19,156 U.S. dollars by Darwin’s Federal Circuit Court on Thursday after it was found that he paid migrant staff as little as 2.05 U.S. dollars per hour.
The underpaid staff were mostly backpackers on 417 working holiday visas from Europe and Asia. They got the job after responding to online advertisements or being approached by Chaipom himself.
They were contracted to work for between four days to eight weeks picking, pruning and weeding on mango farms.
As casual staff, the workers were entitled to be paid between 14.9 and 16.5 U.S. dollars per hour.
Four of the workers were not paid at all and the rest made between 383 and 766 U.S. dollars, the equivalent of 3.65 U.S. dollars per hour at most.
In addition to the fine, Chaipom was ordered to back-pay the staff within 30 days.
Natalie James, Australia’s Far Work Ombudsman (FWO), said that the abuse of migrant workers’ rights was a serious issue in regional Australia.
She said that as a minimum, 417 visa workers should be issued with pay slips.
“It can help them avoid (being) exploited and it can help them avoid difficulties applying for a second year on their visas,” James told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Friday.
“This type of treatment… is extremely concerning.”
Under Australian law, people in the country on 12-month 417 visas must complete at least 88 days of work in regional areas if they wish to extend their visa by another 12 months.
The requirement has widely propagated modern slavery in Australia with farmers able to use desperate migrants as cheap labor.
The Australian government has flagged laws that would require companies with annual revenues exceeding 75 million U.S. dollars to file a modern slavery report proving there is no labor abuse in their supply chain every year.