With the treatment of farm workers in the national media spotlight and an increased focus in Australia’s Fair Work laws on the protection of vulnerable employees, now – more than ever –growers must ensure their employment practices are up to scratch.
Employment matters and industrial relations laws are highly complex. It can be challenging for farm business owners to be sure their employment systems and practices comply with all legal requirements – particularly when there are peaks in casual employment at harvest and other busy times in the season.
The Fair Farms Initiative was established in 2017 to foster good employment practices across the Australian horticulture industry and ensure that workers are treated fairly while they are employed in fruit or vegetable farms and pack houses. Coordinated by Growcom and funded by the Fair Work Ombudsman, the national initiative will be rolled out over four years.
The Initiative aims to support growers with the tools and knowledge to ensure their employment systems comply fully with workplace relations laws – and the provision of certification enabling them to demonstrate this to customers and the wider community.
Elements of the Initiative include:
- An information campaign, including regional seminars and articles in industry magazines to inform growers of their obligations under Fair Work laws and practical ways to maintain compliant employment procedures and record-keeping. Engagement strategies will also be used to ensure farm workers are informed of their rights and entitlements.
- Assistance for growers to complete the workplace relations module within Growcom’s Hort360 program. This process steps the farm business through all aspects of their legal requirements, provides a risk assessment of current employment practices, and identifies areas for improvement.
- The development of a Fair Farms certification scheme, administered by Freshcare, that would enable growers to demonstrate to their customers that their employment practices are fair and meet legal requirements.
- Development of a cost-efficient pathway to formal qualifications in human resources for interested growers or their key staff members.
- An annual award to showcase excellence in employment practices in the Australian horticulture industry. The inaugural award is planned for 2019.
For growers in Western Australia – keep an eye out for seminars planned around Perth and the south-west in May 2018.
Progress towards a Fair Farms certification scheme
In response to public concerns regarding the exploitation of workers, Australia’s supermarkets have moved to implement responsible sourcing policies – driving a need for fresh produce suppliers to show how they comply with these policies.
While some fresh produce suppliers have been asked to complete SEDEX self-assessments and audits, feedback from both growers and retailers indicates that this system may not sufficiently address specific Australian issues.
The Fair Farms Initiative offers an opportunity to establish a national industry-based certification scheme for fair employers. Growcom and Freshcare have met with each of Australia’s major supermarkets to discuss this as an alternative approach and practical solution for the fresh produce industry.
An auditable code of practice for fair employment has been drafted, based on Growcom’s Hort360 workplace relations module. The proposed national scheme would enable growers to complete on-line self-assessments of their employment policies, practices and records, and access a range of training options if required. Independent, third-party audits will be available to businesses that require formal certification, which would be administered by Freshcare.
The major retailers have indicated a willingness to consider an industry-led initiative, and feedback on the proposed code has been positive so far.
As a grower organisation, Growcom is keenly aware of the potential burden on industry members of any new certification scheme. Our aim is to work towards a scheme that is practical and cost effective for growers, but which also addresses the strong drive from government, retailers and the public for increased accountability from growers around workplace practices.
The scheme will be piloted over the coming months, with a launch planned at HortConnections in Brisbane in June. For information, contact Jane Muller, Fair Farms project coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.