Australian Workers’ Union Central District secretary Keith Ballin expresses his anger over employees of SP Exports and contractors not being paid their wages.
Australian Workers’ Union Central District secretary Keith Ballin expresses his anger over employees of SP Exports and contractors not being paid their wages. Max Fleet

Four months of pay 'farce'

THE Australian Workers' Union has threatened to take Childers-based farming giant SP Exports to Fair Work Australia after reports up to 250 employees have not been paid properly for four months.

AWU Central District secretary Keith Ballin said he had received several complaints from employees at the farm, which is one of the biggest tomato-growing operations in Australia.

"I've just found out they haven't paid wages for this week ending and they won't be able to," Mr Ballin said.

"It's becoming a farce - employers have obligations to pay their employees on time and this has been going on for four months."

Mr Ballin said he managed to contact company managing director Andrew Philip, who told him he was trying to get money to pay wages but "he didn't like his chances".

SP Exports employs labour hire contractors including Willing Workers and a company believed to be T4, also known as AFC.

"It is becoming more concerning that they do not have enough liquid assets to be able to pay wages to the labour hire companies he engages," Mr Ballin said.

"I'm starting to wonder whether they should be made insolvent."

The union organiser said the situation was different for each employee, with some being paid sporadically and others not being paid at all.

"I've got people on the phone crying to me saying they need money to go visit their sick mother," he said.

"I'm going to lodge a dispute with Fair Work, but it might be seen as a small claim in the Federal Magistrates Court.

"We're hoping we might be able to get an audience in front of a commission."

Willing Workers owner David Purcell, who has contracted to SP Exports since March 2011, refused to say how long the money problems had been ongoing, but alluded to being owed about $1 million by what is believed to be SP Exports and a third party.

"It's in court at the moment," he said.

Mr Purcell said he expected to pay his 80 employees at SP Exports last night.

He said he had been waiting on payment from the farm by Thursday, but it had not materialised and he was assured it would come through late yesterday instead.

Mr Purcell said he would pay his workers regardless.

"They (employees) are still legally on fortnightly pays so we don't need to pay them until next week."

Mr Purcell said they had been doing workers a "favour" by paying weekly.

The NewsMail repeatedly tried to contact Andrew Philip yesterday, but he refused to answer or return calls.

When reports first surfaced of payment discrepancies late last year, he told the NewsMail workers were being paid as far as he knew.

T4 were also uncontactable.



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