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Indian-Origin Blueberry farmer penalised in NSW

This image is for representation purpose only. Source: AAP

Most of the fruit-pickers Dosanjh employed were young overseas backpackers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa.

Gurmakh Dosanjh, a blueberry farmer in NSW who employed dozens of overseas backpackers to pick his crop has been penalised $13,005 for serious record-keeping failures.

Dosanjh, a farmer at Sandy Beach on the NSW Mid-North Coast was penalised today after Fair Work inspectors discovered that records of 60 casual employees were limited to their first names and how many buckets they picked.

Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) also found that Dosanjh had breached workplace laws by failing to issue employees with pay-slips within one day of being paid and failing to have written piecework agreements in place for employees who were paid per-bucket.

Under workplace laws, employers must keep employment records for all employees, including basic personal details, details of pay rates and hours worked.

Imposing the penalty, which is 75 per cent of the possible maximum, Judge Tom Altobelli described the contraventions as "extensive".

"It is hard to imagine a more superficial or half-hearted attempt to comply with any standard of record keeping, let alone the statutory standard," Judge Altobelli said.

Most of the fruit-pickers Dosanjh employed were young overseas backpackers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa, many from non-English speaking countries, FWO said.

Judge Altobelli found that Dosanjh's "minimalistic" record-keeping had made it impossible for the Fair Work Ombudsman to pursue him for underpaying his vulnerable employees.

The Court found that Dosanjh's workers were paid $6 for each bucket of blueberries they picked.

"The record keeping was so minimalistic that it was not even possible for the Respondent, let alone the (Fair Work Ombudsman), to contact the vast majority of the employees in question," the judgment says.

Judge Altobelli found that Dosanjh’s contraventions were not deliberate, but that "his culpability cannot be obviated, or mitigated, by ignorance of the law, particularly in the circumstances of a case where his employees are vulnerable, palpably so."

"There is a need to send a message to the community, and particularly to employers, that employers must provide their employees with the current entitlements, and steps should be taken to understand and comply with those entitlements," he said.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said failing to keep proper employment records is a serious matter and contraventions involving overseas workers are particularly serious.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is also conducting a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa after receiving allegations that some unscrupulous operators were exploiting backpackers.

Employers and employees seeking assistance can visit or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94. An interpreter service is available on 13 14 50.

Source Fairwork Ombudsman