Statement on Covino Farms

Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford, has announced that the Victorian State Government will suspend payments to Covino Farms, in light of disturbing allegations of worker exploitation and abuse.

The funds, approved by former Minister for Regional and Rural Development, Peter Ryan, in August 2013, provided Covino Farms with a grant of up to $1.5 million, as part of the previous Coalition Government’s Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund (LVIIF).

Under the agreement, Covino was required to employ 60 new full time equivalent workers and retain 200 existing jobs.

A year later, Mr Ryan approved a variation to the definition of “employees” in the agreement, to include contract workers.

Ms Pulford confirmed at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) hearings, that no payments had been made to date, and that until Covino Farms complied with its legal and contractual responsibilities, funding would be withheld.

Ms Pulford’s decision builds on the Victorian State Government’s commitment to stamp out the exploitation of workers in Victoria by rogue labour hire companies, including undertaking an inquiry into sham contracting and phoenix companies.

Quotes attributable to the Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford

“I will be making no payment to Covino Farms until and unless I am satisfied that Covino Farms have complied with their legal and contractual employment responsibilities.”

“It is deeply concerning that the former Minister for Regional Development approved a variation to the contract to include contractor workers – despite widespread claims of unfair working conditions for contract workers engaged by rogue labour hire companies.”

“I have requested that my department obtains legal advice in regards to the current contract between the Victorian State Government and Covino Farms. Upon receiving this advice I will consider the matter further.”

Quotes attributable to the Minister for Industrial Relations, Natalie Hutchins

“The Andrews Labor Government is taking these matters seriously. In addition to Minister Pulford’s decision, we will also be undertaking an inquiry into labour hire, sham contracting and phoenix activities.”

“I will also be raising these issues at the next meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers for Workplace Relations and Work Health and Safety. We need a national strategy to deal with worker exploitation, and we need it now.”

Quotes attributable to Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Harriet Shing

“No worker in Victoria should be denied fair workplace terms and conditions and the vast majority of Gippsland farmers and businesses that do the right thing shouldn’t be disadvantaged in competing with companies who cut corners.”

“Stamping out workplace exploitation and creating productive and secure jobs for Gippslanders is crucial and the Minister’s decision is evidence that we’re serious about protecting workplace rights for Victorians.