Related: ‘Insidious’ impact of labour hire on central Victorian workers
A formerHazeldene’s employee sayshe hopesaparliamentaryinquiry’s decision to refer Bendigo’s largest private employer to Victoria Police will serve as a warning to companies which tryto intimidate workers.
Chair of the Victorian Inquiry into Labour Hire and Insecure Work professor Anthony Forsyth requested police determine if the poultry producer breached theInquiries Act when it told an employee his job was “in jeopardy” after speaking about alleged exploitation.
Breaching the act carries a maximum penalty of more than $18,600 or 12 months imprisonment.
Former Hazeldene’s Chicken Farm processing plant worker Luke Martin described MrForsyth’s determination as “just”.
”Due course has followed as a result of this process –that is exactlywhat should have occurred,” Mr Martin said.
“Hopefully this will stand as an example to other companies that you can’ttreat workers like that and you can’t go around thinking you’re above the law.”
Hazeldene’s general manager for marketing Michelle Daniel said the company had“absolutely not” breached theInquiries Act nor intimidated Mr Martin and would work with police to clear its name.
“We welcome any investigation and will provide any information requested to Victoria Police,” MsDaniel said.
“We are confident we have acted with full propriety.”
Ms Daniel saidHazeldene’s paidall employees“according to its relevant industrial instrument” andencouraged people to come forward with any payment complaints.
Labour hirelicensing scheme ‘a very good start’
Both Hazeldene’s disgruntled former employee and its currentgeneral manager for marketingwelcomed a Victorian labour hire licensing scheme proposed by the inquiry and backed by the state government.
Now secretary of Bendigo Trades Hall Council, Mr Martin said it was a “very good start”.
“But when it is implemented it needs to be enforced and it needs be extended to all industries, not just horticulture, meat and cleaning,” he said.
“It’s a good start, but it does need to be extended – it would be good to have national licensing scheme.”
Ms Daniel said the intensive animal producerwould “absolutelywelcome”a labour hire licensing scheme.
“Hazeldene’s rarely use labour hire,” the general manager for marketing said.“We are the largest private employer in Bendigo with 770 permanent employees.
These numbers has been growing every year and has grown 50 percent since 2010 –these numbers demonstrate our preference to not replaceour workforce with casualised labour.”
Mr Martin was a processing plant worker at the Lockwood facility and union representative delegate when he wrote a submission to the inquiry in November 2015.
Initially he said he was relaying claims of exploitation of overseas workers, including that they werepaid below the applicable award rate, cash in hand, did not get paid overtime, casual loading or receive paid leave.
The union delegate said he did so because the workers were afraid of coming forward to speak about their own situation.
In February this year Mr Martin then gave evidence at the inquiry’s public meeting in Ballarat because of what he described as as sudden changes, withcontracted workers filling out tax declaration forms and receiving pay slips.
“These things updated in very short space of time,” he said. “I believe it was in response to the labour hire inquiry.”
Workers get cash in hand: delegate AfterwardsHazeldene’s sent a letter to Mr Martin telling him to bring his concerns to the company.
“As an employee you have a duty of fidelity to Hazeldene’s and therefore any unsubstantiated comments breaches that duty and thereby places the working relationship in jeopardy,” the letter read.
The company held a number of meetings with Mr Martin during the period in which he claimed to have been denied representation.
Victoria Police saidtheyreceived advice from the inquiry in relation to a company in the Bendigo area but that it wasinappropriate to commentas it was under investigation.
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