Fair Work Ombudsman targets pome fruit growers

apple picker
The Fair Work Ombudsman aims to help growers comply with the Horticulture Award.

From 7 April, representatives from the Fair Work Ombudsman will be out and about in the Stanthorpe region, Queensland, in the first of a number of visits around Australia’s apple and pear growing regions. The Fair Work Ombudsman has targeted a number of horticulture industries over the past 12 months to ensure that growers, contractors and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under the Horticulture Award and other awards affecting the industry.

Phil Marsh of the Fair Work Ombudsman says that the regional visits will seek to engage growers and packers to better explain the role of the Fair Work Ombudsman and to improve the understanding of the Award, especially around piece rates.

“This is the first stage of an inquiry into the operation of the modern awards in the apple and pear industries,” says Phil. “We are on an information exchange mission, where we will help the apple and pear industry better know what is expected under the Award. We will start in Stanthorpe and progressively move around Australia’s apple and pear growing districts.”

“Next year we will return for the 2015 harvest and will be seeking evidence of written piece work agreements and piece rate calculations, but this year we are focusing on education. We also want to get a better understanding of your industry. We want to know how the market operates to determine product prices because ultimately this influences employment conditions.”

APAL encourages all growers, packers and industry advisors to attend the information sessions that will be rolled out across the growing regions.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman representatives hope to meet as many growers as possible at an open information session and this is your chance to better understand the system and learn what your legal obligations are,” says Annie Farrow, APAL’s Industry Services Manager.

“In the first instance, the representatives from the Ombudsman’s office are here to help growers and understand their needs in complying with the modern award obligations. However, during the Stanthorpe visit, they will also randomly call upon growers and pack houses to talk directly with employees, contractors as well as business operators and managers.

“Please note that Fair Work Ombudsman officers have the right to enter your premises and talk freely and confidentially with employees. If issues do arise from those cold calls the officers will attempt to liaise between parties to mediate a solution,” adds Annie.

Whilst finding specific examples of non-compliance with the Horticulture Award is not the primary focus of these visits, Annie says that this is a “good wake up call to the industry”.

“Get your house in order. Make sure you know what your legal obligations are and, if in doubt, ask. Attend the information sessions run by the Fair Work Ombudsman or contact your State or regional based organisation or APAL. Penalties for non-compliance can be very high,” says Annie.

The first meeting with the Fair Work Ombudsman will be held at 6pm on 14 April 2014 at the Applethorpe Research Facility New England Highway, Applethorpe, Queensland.

More information about the venues and timings of information sessions will be detailed on APAL’s website and emailed to APAL members in coming weeks. Please contact Annie Farrow at afarrow@apal.org.au for further information.