10/11/2008 - 10:59

Ombudsman to audit WA wineries

10/11/2008 - 10:59

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The federal Workplace Ombudsman has put 200 of Western Australia's premier wineries and vineyard contractors on notice that they will be subject to a series of random audits.

The federal Workplace Ombudsman has put 200 of Western Australia's premier wineries and vineyard contractors on notice that they will be subject to a series of random audits.


The campaign, to be run by the national pay protector's Bunbury office, was this week set in motion to avoid the industry's peak harvest time period.


It aims to educate employers ahead of them engaging hundreds of casual workers in February and March for the 2009 vintage.


Workplace Ombudsman executive director Michael Campbell said the industry has been earmarked for scrutiny because of its phenomenal growth.


The latest audits come hot on the heels of a campaign that began last month to randomly check the books of 100 employers in Kalgoorlie, Norseman, Esperance and Ravensthorpe.


Mr Campbell said many in the wine and vineyard sector may not be aware of changes to employment conditions over the past three years.


The long-standing State Wineries Award of 1969 was varied in 2005 and became what is now the Notional Agreement Preserving State Award Wine Industry (WA) Award.


"We believe this campaign may be the first time some wineries, vineyard contractors and viticulture employees will have been made aware of the scope of the NAPSA," Mr Campbell said.

"It is important that employers realise they must keep accurate time and wage records and to issue pay slips."


New terms and conditions cover virtually all employees engaged in viticulture, including previously excluded vineyard workers who prunes vines and picked grapes.


Mr Campbell said compliance with record-keeping requirement continued to be an issue across many industries.


"Anecdotal evidence suggests it is often due to ignorance, so education is a critical part of our work," he said.


"We also find in regional areas that employees are often reluctant to complain about their job for fear they might put it at risk.


"Similarly, they worry that if they make a complaint that it could impact on their social life, particularly in small communities where everyone knows one another. It is important they understand there is an agency they can turn to if they don't believe they are receiving their proper entitlements, and they can come to us confidentially."


Mr Campbell issued a reminder to the 50 wineries and vineyard contractors in the South West and Great Southern regions he expected to get audited, that workplace inspectors had wide powers to demand records and that penalties applied if employers failed to comply.


In a WA first, a hairdressing salon which refused to produce documents was last month fined $4,500 in the Federal Magistrate's Court in Perth.


Mr Campbell said the penalty should serve as a warning to employers who thought they might try to obstruct the workplace ombudsman from doing its job.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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