Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
The Australian Workers’ Union is now in the hopes that more Australians will choose the field of agriculture as their career choice. After a historic win, the Fair Work Commission ordered that every farm worker in the country be entitled to the minimum casual pay rate of $25.41 per hour rather than rates as low as $3 an hour. The commission is found against the current piece-rate pay arrangements, whereby workers are paid based only on the amount of fruit or vegetables they harvest. The AWU hopes higher wages could entice more Australians to join the farm labour workforce, which is dominated by migrants.
It was unanimously ruled that the piece rate prices were not fit and fair for the workers and therefore should be revised. Depending on the quality of annual crops each year, there are between 100,000 to 130,000 workers covered by the Horticulture Award. The ruling imposes a minimum floor price that growers must pay to workers, which can be complemented with additional piece rates to reward hard work. There are widespread reports of workers effectively being paid just $3 an hour, Mr Walton said, and the new minimum wage could bring a lot more young Australians into this industry in places like Bundaberg with high unemployment and lots of horticulture.
A report based on a five-year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman found in 2018 that 56 per cent of the 8000 horticulture farms with employees had underpaid 2503 workers by a total of $1 million, a figure which the Ombudsman said was a conservative estimate. The Blue Harvest report on blueberry farms on the NSW Coffs Coast by the McKell Institute, commissioned by the AWU, said the lack of a minimum floor price in the horticulture award allowed employers to manipulate the piece rates offered to pickers to minimise their wages.