Employees see red over wages
THE management of Childers tomato giant SP Exports is continuing to go to ground as more workers and labour contractors have spoken up about pay problems with the farm going back years.
The new claims surfaced after the NewsMail revealed on Saturday that the Australian Workers' Union was threatening to take the farming operation to Fair Work Australia after reports up to 250 employees had not been paid for four months.
Labour hire firm Aus Farm Contracting, formerly known as T4, has become the second company to confirm it is owed money by SP Exports, after Willing Workers said it was chasing about $1 million owing in wages.
Aus Farm manager Mustafa Cengiz yesterday told the NewsMail the company was owed money, but would not say how much.
It is understood Aus Farm has contracted workers to several SP Exports properties for the past seven years.
Former employee Paul Haaksma told the NewsMail he started with SP Exports in 2006 and worked there until he was laid off last July.
"The first year I was there we got paid for working public holidays, but the year after that it stopped," he said.
Mr Haaksma, of Kepnock, said when employees questioned their hours, they were told it was part of their contract.
"I didn't even see a workplace agreement," he said.
The 50-year-old said it got to the point where workers were forced to put in overtime or faced losing their jobs.
"You worked whenever they wanted you to work - if you didn't, you wouldn't have a job," he said.
Mr Haaksma believes he is owed about $50,000 from the tomato farm in overtime and holiday penalties, but is doubtful he will ever recoup the money.
"There were weeks when there'd be no money in the bank," he said.
He said bungling of workers' pay was not an uncommon practice, resulting in overdrawn accounts for some workers.
When Mr Haaksma approached SP Exports about being reimbursed for the overdrawn fees, he said he was told "no".
Another worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said the farm's managing director, Andrew Philip, had been virtually uncontactable since October last year.
"SP Exports has been paying its own workers, but not the other contractors," the 24-year-old said.
Mr Philip has failed to return multiple phone calls to the NewsMail regarding the pay allegations.
Australian Workers' Union Central District secretary Keith Ballin said he was told by a Willing Workers representative that SP Exports employees were paid late on Friday.
"That was only union members, as far as I know," he said.