Fair Work rules every farm worker on every farm entitled to a minimum rate of pay

The Fair Work Commission has ruled that workers picking fruit on a piece rate must be guaranteed a minimum wage under the Horticulture Award.

Key points:The AWU described the ruling as one of the most significant industrial decisions of modern timesThe union argued that every worker should be guaranteed a minimum casual rate, currently $25.41 per hourThe Fair Work Commission's full bench found existing pieceworker provisions were not fit for purpose

A piece rate is when a worker is paid according to the amount of produce they harvest, so the more fruit or vegetables harvested the more a worker is paid.

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) lodged its claim with the commission in December and argued that every worker should be guaranteed a minimum casual rate, currently $25.41 per hour.

In its finding delivered late yesterday, the Fair Work Commission's full bench "expressed the view that the existing pieceworker provisions in the Horticulture Award are not fit for purpose".

"They do not provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net as required by the Act," it said.

"The Full Bench was satisfied that the insertion of a minimum wage floor with consequential time recording provisions in the piecework clause is necessary to ensure that the Horticulture Award achieves the modern awards objective."

We're investigating unfair work and want to hear from you

We are interested in everyone's perspectives on work in Australia, whether you are an apprentice, trainee or intern, an employee, contractor, manager or business owner, whatever industry you work in.

We want to hear from people from all over Australia and from all cultural backgrounds, whether you are an Australian citizen, permanent resident or visa holder.

Please tell us your story using the Unfair Work form, which is available in English, simplified Chinese and Indonesian.If you are sharing sensitive information, please consider contacting us via more secure methods of communication.

If you'd like to know more about our investigation, check out our project page abc.net.au/unfairwork.

Tray of blueberries
Under piece rate, a workers' total pay is determined by the amount of fruit or vegetables they pick.(ABC Rural: Eliza Rogers)

AWU national secretary Dan Walton described the ruling as one of the most significant industrial decisions of modern times.

"I believe this decision ranks among the great victories of our union's 135-year history," Mr Walton said.

"Fruit pickers in Australia have been routinely and systemically exploited and underpaid.

"Too many farmers have been able to manipulate the piece rate system to establish pay and conditions far beneath Australian standards.

"Now it will be easy for workers — even if they don't have good English language skills or Australian connections — to understand if they're being ripped off.

"From now on if you're making less than $25 an hour fruit picking in Australia your boss is breaking the law and stealing from you."

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Potential for higher prices at checkout, minister says

The National Farmers' Federation had opposed the changes, arguing piece rates promote productivity and that any change to the award could drive farmers out of business.

Federal agriculture minister David Littleproud said he was working through the ruling. 

"The Fair Work Commission is an independent umpire. It's a statutory authority independent separate from the federal government," Mr Littleproud said.

He suggested the ruling could mean Australians will be asked to pay higher prices for their produce.

"Farmers have to be paid for their produce, and the cost of producing that produce should be reflected at the checkout," Mr Littleproud said.

"You could surmise that at some point, not having read through the final determination in full, this may have some upward pressure on on prices at the supermarket."

Opponents will have an opportunity to appeal the ruling before the end of the year.

Loading form…Posted 3 Nov 20213 Nov 2021Wed 3 Nov 2021 at 8:44pm, updated 4 Nov 20214 Nov 2021Thu 4 Nov 2021 at 2:16amShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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