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Senator demands answers over alleged sham contracting in NSW


WA Labor Senator Glenn Sterle has sent a hard-hitting ‘please explain’ letter to the peak farming body in response to an “alarming” job advertisement for an MC driver.

In the missive Sterle also sent to Big Rigs, and posted on his Facebook page, Sterle, a former truckie himself, is demanding answers from National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) CEO Tony Mahar over what he feels is a classic example of “blatant wage theft” and sham contracting.

In the Facebook job ad, made by someone looking for an MC driver for the upcoming harvest season in Walgett, NSW, the hirer says the position would be for approximately 12 weeks carting harvest grain to the local receival.

The conditions for the job include the following:

  • Must have a ‘clean’ MC licence
  • Must have ‘Ag’ carting experience
  • Must have good communication skills; and finally
  • Must have an ABN.

The pay offered for this position is $20/hr+ (negotiable), but as Sterle rightly points out, the starting hourly rate for driving a double-articulated vehicle up to and including 53.4 tonnes GCM – including B-doubles – in NSW is $26.16.

“To advertise a job $6 less than the award is a sham and is blatant wage theft,” Sterle writes.

“I would be interested to hear your views on whether employers in your industry should be allowed to get away with offering drivers conditions far less than what they are entitled to as per the award.

“Furthermore, this advertisement is a clear case and example of sham contracting.”

A sham contracting arrangement is when an employer attempts to disguise an employment relationship as a contractor relationship.

Employers do this so that they don’t have to provide the following: time and a half, double time, meal allowances, overnight allowances, sick leave, workers compensation, annual leave and superannuation – all which are included as part of an award rate, Sterle states.

“Sham contracting is illegal under the Fair Work Act 2009. The Australian Business Register’s website also states that an employer shouldn’t ask a worker to get an ABN as a condition of employment and yet here we are.”

Sterle goes on to say that he notes from a recent NFF media release that there are “deepening” challenges in the farming workforce and has no doubt that access to quality and experienced truckies, as well as their working conditions, is one of the challenges that the farming industry faces.

“What is the National Farmers’ Federation doing to draw attention to the blatant wage theft and use of sham contracting arrangements in your industry? Does the National Farmers’ Federation endorse this sort of behaviour?

“If this is just business as usual for you, it is no wonder you are campaigning against the government’s planned reforms to crack down on the exploitation of workers.”

In an emailed response to Sterle’s letter, Mahar told Big Rigs that there is “no place in our industry for people who underpay their workers”.

“The NFF is on the record supporting stronger wage theft laws. To say we’re campaigning against that is wrong and just ridiculous,” Mahar added.

“In addition to supporting stronger wage theft laws, we’ve also called for better resourcing of the Fair Work Ombudsman to pull this kind of practice into line.

“We hope Senator Sterle has taken the time to report this case to the proper authorities.”

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