News

Orchardist defends actions in court during Fair Work case

AN Applethorpe farm's advisor has defended establishing two labour hire companies to avoid paying workers more than $10,000 in overtime.

Vince Catanzaro, a Stanthorpe-based solicitor and tax agent, told the Federal Court in Brisbane that people simply were "not offered overtime" in the fruit and vegetable industry.

He said it was seasonal work and people would "voluntarily" elect to work more than 40 hours a week at the ordinary rate of pay.

Mr Catanzaro said the move avoided "unnecessary movement of workers from one property to another" during the busy season.

The Fair Work Ombudsman disagrees, arguing the Eastern Colours farm set up an illegal employment structure to transfer four farm workers from one company to another after they had each worked 40 hours in a week.

Original documents lodged with the court in 2010 alleged three packers and one fork-lift driver were denied $13,719 in overtime payments but the total underpayment could be more than $19,000 because they did not meet minimum hourly rates or pay public holiday rates.

Former employee Adela Caruso, from Stanthorpe, told the court she and her father had both worked at the farm, explaining how they each had to fill out two employment forms for two companies to she could work as many hours as she could.

When questioned, she said she did not know anything about overtime and was not informed that anyone who worked over 40 hours was entitled to claim a higher pay rate.

Barrister Geoffrey Phillips, acting for the Fair Work Ombudsman, said the Fruit and Vegetable Growers award applicable to 2005 to 2007 allegation period "entitled" workers to overtime at a higher pay rate after they had worked 40 hours.

Mr Catanzaro accepted that was true but said the current workplace agreement allowed for people to continue on the same pay rate after 38 hours which mirrored what they were doing back then.

He agreed setting up the labour hire companies was a "cost-effective" way to employ people, instead of paying a surcharge to external entities to hire staff.

"There are many commercial reasons you would structure your business that way," he said.

Mr Catanzaro said it was a "simple process" where people would work 40 hours for one company and then move over to work for a second company.

He said otherwise they would be sent away to work on another farm and a new crop of workers would have to come in to finish the job.

"This is not an unusual arrangement in the industry," he said.

"In that industry there is no overtime paid.

"In my experience, they would never receive an offer of overtime, it just doesn't exist, even though the award provides for it."

Mr Catanzaro agreed with the suggestion there were "advantages in keeping the one group in the one place for as many hours as they were needed in any given week during the season".

"There were advantages that justified the whole concept ... the concept of voluntary additional hours," he said.

John Baronio told the court he began the farm in 1988, but after leaving school aged 13 and a half and working through until age 66, he was moving towards retirement.

Mr Baronio disagreed he was winding down the farm, instead saying he had given more control to his nephews.

"I've had a heart attack and I've nearly had enough," he said.

Mr Baronio said he left the labour duties to his wife, Mr Catanzaro and other professional advisors.

He said he understood the two-company payment system worked "provided they were happy enough to voluntarily do additional hours at the same rate of pay".

The hearing continues.

Topics:  fair work australia, farming, federal court, orchard, wages, workers



Fight breaks out at Rose City Shoppingworld

Police were called just after 1pm.

A MAN has been charged after allegedly causing a ruckus

Extra backpacker beds for Stanthorpe

View of the Stanthorpe CBD from Mount Marley.

Stanthorpe will see a boost to accommodation for seasonal workers

Storms are coming! What it means for your long weekend

Yes, it's going to affect your long weekend

Local Partners

9000 reasons to support our community clubs

Community clubs are good at what they do. They are not so good at telling the world about what they do, as Clubs Queensland CEO Doug Flockhart explains.


Channel 9 orders second season of Doctor Doctor

Rodger Corser stars in the TV series Doctor Doctor.

RURAL medical drama finds a loyal following.

Katy Perry gets naked to encourage people to vote

Katy Perry in Funny Or Die sketch

Katy Perry has stripped naked for a comedy video

Jogging Tom Hanks crashes wedding in Central Park

Tom Hanks stopped for a selfie with this bride and groom

MOVIE REVIEW: Storks delivers family fun

A scene from the movie Storks.

ANIMATION can be hit or miss but when it hits, it hits hard.

Nick 'the snake' to call the shots on Survivor jury

Australian Survivor contestant Nick Iadanza.

LATEST evictee is out of the game but will still have a say.

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber split

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber

Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber have split after 11 years together.

$40million hotel, shops development project for Mackay

Mt Pleasant hotel and retirement accommodation, proposed at 194-202 Malcomson St.

$40m development to take Mackay to 'the next level'

Rural properties expected to soar as investors seek income

Rural properties are should become highly sought after

Property 200m from ocean selling for just over $100K

BEACHCOMBER PARK: Work has started on a new $19.2 million development at Toogoom.

The estate's developer is offering huge discounts for early buyers.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

First stages of $25 million housing development underway

New development on Madsen Rd - The Springs.

The blocks of land are much bigger than usual

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.