By Corey Everitt
A labour hire company has been issued a record-setting fine of over $600,000 by the Supreme Court of Victoria for unlicensed activities it conducted across the State, including on farms in Kooweerup and Devon Meadows.
Successfully prosecuted by the Labour Hire Authroity (LHAL), A L Star Express Pty Ltd was found to have knowingly and repeatedly contravened the Labour Hire Licensing Act 2018 (Vic) when it supplied 16 labour hire workers to four separate horticulture businesses, without holding a labour hire licence. Receiving a penalty of $617,916, the highest ever for a breach of labour hire law in Australian history.
Workers were provided to pick fruit and vegetables and perform other horticulture tasks in Victorian regions including Rosebud, Kooweerup, Torquay and Devon Meadows.
A L Star was denied a license by LHA on 28 June 2021, yet in the later months of that year they were found to have engaged in a contract which supplied workers to four separate businesses.
Three of which were supplied in periods between September and December 2021 through a company called The Veggie Cutter Pty Ltd, which was a labour hire company operating under application for a license.
Veggie Cutter was contracted to provide labour for three separate companies, to which it was found A L Star supplied workers to Veggie Star for the three contracts.
The fourth and final contravention was between 29 June and 2 August 2021, A L Star directly engaged in a contract for the purpose of supplying workers to a Heatherton-based horticultural company.
Due to a 28-day appeal period after the license refusal on 28 June, A L Star was found to be in violation of the law only between 27 July to 1 August 2021.
In judgement, Honourable Associate Justice Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou determined A L Star had knowingly supplied workers unlicensed and repeatedly contravened the Act.
“The contraventions by Star must be characterised as serious. I refer to the knowing and repeated nature of the contraventions, and the extent of the contraventions, namely over several months, and affecting at least sixteen workers,” concluded Justive Ierodiaconou.
The penalty for each contravention if taken to the maximum determined by the Act would amount to over $2.3 million.
LHA argued for 50 percent of the maximum for each contravention, amounting to over $1.1 million.
Justice Ierodiaconou determined 40 percent of maximum with only 5 percent for the supply to the Heather company.
This amounted to $726,960, for the sake of potentially being too oppressive of a deterrent, Justive Ierodiaconou reduced the total by 15 percent to a total of $617,916.
Commenting on the record breaking prosecution, Labour Hire Licensing Commissioner, Steve Dargavel spoke on how companies need to be held to account with the law.
“Labour hire workers picking fruit and vegetables are among Victoria’s most vulnerable, so it’s critical that the companies employing them are appropriately vetted and licensed to operate,” Mr Dargavel said.
“Dodgy labour hire providers who pay workers as little as $17 an hour have no place in our industry and will be held to account.
“Ensuring all Victorian labour hire companies are licensed is an essential way of protecting workers and improving the fairness and integrity of the industry.”
“Significant penalties also apply for engaging unlicensed labour hire providers, so Victorian businesses should always check the LHA website to ensure their provider holds a current licence.”