CEO Report – Tackling labour issues requires dual approach

On the brink of a new year, this is not the introduction I had hoped to share: At time of writing, SA growers are only just coming terms with the hail storms that battered the hills region for an unbelievable, second consecutive year.  We spoke of last year’s storm as being a ‘once in 100-year event’, so it beggars belief that this has happened once again.

APAL is working closely with Susie Green, CEO Apple & Pear Growers Association of SA (APGASA), to understand the cost of the damage and put in place meaningful plans for growers already operating under serious pressure.

We are asking government for concrete support to implement netting, our only real risk mitigation against another catastrophic storm. Both Federal and State need to look to the NSW model, whereby netting was subsidised by 50 per cent.

In a storm of a different kind, the final report of the Harvest Trail Inquiry by the Fair Work Ombudsman was also released on November 22. While commending the good work of Fruit Growers Victoria (FGV) to ensure the fairness of their annual piece rate guide, the report also highlighted many serious cases of mistreatment of workers across the broader agricultural sector.

From speaking with you, we know the vast majority of growers do the right thing and support the introduction of heavy penalties for those unscrupulous operators.

That said, we are also conscious that access to labour at harvest is a serious constraint issue facing industry and this pressure can lead a small few to feel they need to operate outside the rules, which is unacceptable and jeopardises the reputation of all. My view is that we need to tackle these issues concurrently: i) Penalties for offenders and ii) Fixing the core labour challenge which is access to a willing and capable labour force.  Failure to address symptoms, without tackling the root cause is simply poor policy.

The current lack of a tailored visa to deal with the unique challenges faced by horticulture is top of our advocacy priorities. Specifically, we are driving for a more portable, administratively-simple and low-cost visa, which allows smaller growers to access foreign workers, while also ensuring the proper safeguards to protect workers from any exploitation.

The announcement that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources is undertaking an Import Risk Analysis into US-Apples has also been a focus: APAL has convened an Apple and Pear Biosecurity Steering Committee and I’m pleased to confirm the appointment of Kevin Clayton-Greene to the role of Expert Advisor.  The Committee will also seek guidance from various subject matter experts as we conduct an independent biosecurity investigation, in parallel to the government’s risk analysis.

We have advised, and been welcomed by the Department, to present interim updates as new data comes to light, rather than waiting for the publishing of the draft report in mid-2019.

Finally, with consumption flat or declining, growers have formally expressed serious displeasure at the strategy driving current marketing levy investment.

While levy funds are wholly directed by Hort Innovation, as your peak body, APAL believes we ought to be accountable to tackle this issue head-on, and have shared a high-level outline of how we would manage the strategic direction and investment priorities for growers’ consideration:

Instead of spending the majority of your levy on advertising in magazines, social media or TV advertising, we need to start with the consumer who have clearly told us in the Apple & Pear Quality Research, that consistent fruit quality, first and foremost, is the driver of purchase, with price a secondary consideration.

So, we need to get our quality nailed, every time.  Rather than advertising a product that does not consistently stack up to the claims, let’s focus on what’s actually on the shelf – and how it looks and how it eats.

And alongside all this, developing an export marketing strategy will be crucial for the future.

With these recommendations, and KPMG’s report in mind, growers instructed APAL to draft and present a letter, on behalf of Industry, to the Hort Innovation Board outlining:

  • Industry’s dissatisfaction with current marketing performance
  • Requesting that APAL take over responsibility for the strategic direction of apple and pear marketing
  • Cease all planned expenditure on marketing activities, until such time as a new strategy is agreed by Industry.

I can confirm that this letter was delivered and at the time of writing, the Hort Innovation Board was considering its response. Encouragingly, preliminary discussions with Matt Brand, CEO, confirmed Hort Innovation’s willingness to develop a shared vision with Industry.

We will keep Industry apprised of developments and are committed to redirecting your investment towards a more profitable, sustainable future before new season produce hits the shelves.

Thank you for your ongoing support of our Industry vision and we look forward to accelerating the delivery of a number of critical projects, including Market Access and Export Readiness and Future Orchards, in 2019.

On behalf of the APAL team, I do hope you have a very happy, productive and safe Christmas.

Phil Turnbull



By |January 9th, 2019|CEO report|

About the Author:

CEO, Apple and Pear Australia Ltd
03 9329 3511