Mushroom farmer's case that he underpaid workers dismissed

A STAPYLTON mushroom farmer has had charges dropped that he knowingly underpaid pickers.

Marland Mushrooms and its director Troy Marland had been charged with breaching the Fair Work Act.

The Fair Work Ombudsman claimed Mr Marland and Marland Mushrooms were complicit in labour-hire company HRS Country's underpayment of pickers.

HRS Country's director and sole shareholder Tau Hu earlier pleaded guilty to breaching the Fair Work Act. No legal action was taken against HRS Country as it is currently in liquidation.

The FWO alleged HRS underpaid hundreds of workers by $650,000 over eight months.

But Justice Darryl Rangiah said the Fair Work Ombudsman's case displayed a "lack of clarity" as to what made up the breaches.

Justice Rangiah said the evidence did not show Mr Marland knew HRS Country was underpaying workers.

"I cannot conclude that Mr Marland deliberately refrained from inquiring as to the status of employees, rather than merely neglecting to do so," he said.

"I am not satisfied that Mr Marland knew that HRS Country's employees were engaged as casual employees. The FWO's case against Mr Marland must fail at this point."

The FWO alleged per-piece contracts in the horticulture industry did not allow pickers to earn a legal wage.

Under the Horticulture Award, if per-piece rates are paid to pickers it must allow an "average competent worker" to earn at least 15 per cent more than the minimum hourly rate.

Justice Rangiah's said pickers had to pick more than 28 kilograms of mushrooms per hour to earn the hourly rate of $22.86. Mr Marland told the court he believed an average picker could pick between 25 and 30 kilograms each hour.

The National Farmers' Federation intervened on the matter as there were concerns the case could set a precedent for how piece rates were applied across the agriculture sector.


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