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The Fair Work Ombudsman has made surprise inspections of agriculture businesses in North West Victoria to check workers are getting the right pay.

Over two weeks, Fair Work Inspectors targeted farms and labour hire companies in the Sunraysia region, with about 30 businesses inspected across various locations including Mildura, Irymple, Colignan, Red Cliffs and Robinvale.

The regulator acted after receiving intelligence from a range of sources, including anonymous reports, indicating potential underpayments of employees in the region’s agriculture sector. The farms inspected grow a range of produce including almonds, avocadoes, citrus fruits, garlic, grapes and mushrooms.

The Fair Work Ombudsman said continuing to boost compliance among agriculture sector employers remained a priority for the agency.

Fair Work Inspectors spoke with business owners, managers and employees on the ground, and requested records. They were on alert for low rates of pay that breached the Horticulture Award, including with regard to piece rates; record-keeping and payslip breaches; and contraventions of the National Employment Standards including failure to provide the Fair Work Information Statement.

Investigations continue and results will be published at a later date.

The investigations are part of the regulator’s Agriculture Strategy which began in December 2021. Under the strategy, the FWO will target more than 300 businesses in 15 ‘hot spot’ regions over two years where there are identified high risks of non-compliance. Industry sectors being investigated include viticulture, horticulture, meat processing and agriculture.

Where breaches warrant court action, a court can order penalties of up to $13,320 per contravention for an individual and $66,600 per contravention for companies. Maximum penalties are 10-times higher if a court determines breaches were serious contraventions under the Protecting Vulnerable Workers laws.