Twelve women who worked as seasonal workers at a large tomato glasshouse in South Australia are suing Perfection Fresh for nearly $4 million in Federal court, alleging repeated sexual harassment at work.
Perfection Fresh is one of Australia’s largest fresh produce companies.
The women say they were subjected to unwanted, uninvited, and unlawful sexual advances, exposure, and physical contact by two men in supervisory positions of authority.
Perfection Fresh denies the allegations and argues it took swift action upon receiving complaints.
The United Workers Union is representing the workers, who are seeking compensation, improved sexual harassment training, and a review of the company's procedures, emphasizing the need for employers to ensure safe workplaces.
The UWU’s farm sector executive director, Caterina Cinanni, has described the case as ‘one of the biggest cases against workplace sexual harassment and assault’ brought before the Federal Court.
‘It must be the responsibility of an employer to provide a safe workplace free from gendered workplace violence, especially when the employment model increases a power imbalance, as it does for women who come to work in the horticulture sector in Australia on the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) program,’ she said.
In 2015, the ABC’s Four Corners program reported worker underpayment and exploitation at the same Two Wells tomato glasshouse, the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
Perfection Fresh argues that it took appropriate steps after receiving a complaint against the first man, who was suspended and subsequently fired after an investigation confirmed several allegations.
When complaints arose about the second man, he was also suspended, but he resigned before an investigation could take place.
Perfection Fresh is denying liability, arguing it took appropriate steps and provides thorough induction processes.
It’s worth noting that while the individual supervisors were the perpetrators, the court action is against their employer for failing to provide safe systems of work and a safe environment.