By Peter Angel, NHLIS State Manager, MADEC
Whose responsibility is it to check workers are legal?
If you are an employer it is your legal responsibility to ensure your workers have the right to work. Using a labour hire contractor to avoid that obligation yourself is still fraught with danger; there are some circumstances where you can still be held liable. Also, if the contractor’s workers on your property are not legal and are removed in a raid by authorities there are several implications that could hurt.
First, you lose the labour force you need to take your crop off. That could be very costly as you lose production, especially if you have a short harvest season. Second, it is unlikely to be the labour suppliers’ name that is spread across the media; it will be your farm and your own name that will attract the negative publicity. And third, it will put pressure on the image of the farming sector in the mind of the general public. Farmers have a good image in the community, but every time a farm is found employing workers illegally, that image and the support it generates takes another hit.
Where do seasonal workers come from?
Horticulture uses a lot of overseas workers who are here on visas. They are often referred to as ‘temporary migrants’ and there are various sorts of visas that allow them to work. However not all visitors to Australia have the right to work, in fact most are here as tourists and don’t have that privilege.
The common visas you are likely to encounter are from backpackers, students, and Pacific islanders or East Timorese under the Seasonal Worker Programme. But there are others that are less commonly used.
Anyone with a New Zealand passport automatically has full work rights in Australia, so they don’t need a visa.
How do I check if my workers are legal?
The Department of Home Affairs has an online tool to check visas – the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) web page. There is no cost to use VEVO and it is easy to navigate but you must register as an employer first. Do this well before your season starts because it takes up to ten working days to receive your login account. However, you only have to register once.
When you wish to check someone’s right to work you simply log on, put in the details from their passport, and you will get back an instant response of their visa conditions. It is important you physically check passports and examine photos as it is not uncommon for those without work rights to use somebody else’s details to avoid detection. The response from VEVO will tell you whether they are allowed to work in Australia, whether there are any conditions, and when that visa expires. All you need to know.
Visit the VEVO website for more information.
Be aware that since this system was established, if you are found with illegal workers, not knowing will not be accepted as an excuse. It is your obligation to know and the tools are available to check. Cover yourself!