Consumer

Growers, exporters, and retailers all share the same goal: to get high-quality apples and pears into the hands of consumers.

Looking After Workers

“Protecting the rights of workers is essential to the future profitability and sustainability of Australian agriculture,” – APAL CEO, Phil Turnbull.

 

Seasonal farm workers employed on apple and pear orchards are essential to the industry and their contributions are highly valued by growers. Without them the industry would not have enough workers to pick and pack fruit. It is therefore very important that there are enough seasonal farm workers and that they are treated and paid fairly.

Workplace laws have evolved to ensure workers are correctly treated. Increasing scrutiny, legal requirements, fines and market demands all act as checks to ensure growers pay and treat their workers fairly and also act to create a level playing field so employers who do the right thing are not disadvantaged.

Growers’ Responsibilities

Growers’ Responsibilities

All growers, even those who use a labour hire provider to source seasonal farm workers, are responsible for ensuring their workers get paid and are treated fairly. Being able to demonstrate fair treatment will help to ensure businesses attract high quality repeat labour, delivering increased productivity.

APAL is taking a leadership role to bolster a fair employment culture across industry and support the creation of a level playing field to ensure growers who do the right thing are not disadvantaged. Follow the ‘Hire Right’ check list for useful tips that will help ensure your labour hire practices are up to scratch.

Read more about ‘accessorial liability’ on the FWO website, which sets out the responsibilities of growers to workers supplied by labour hire providers.

Below are a series of Q&A and resources aimed at helping growers and workers ensure proper labour practices are in place.

Growers can contact APAL for more information.

Growers’ Responsibilities

About seasonal farm workers

Seasonal farm jobs are temporary employment in the agricultural industry, dominated by peak season harvest opportunities in picking, packing and tending to horticultural crops including apples and pears. The number of positions in an orchard changes seasonally and from year-to-year.

People employed in these jobs are called seasonal farm workers. They typically comprise a large proportion of people visiting Australia on Working Holiday visa (subclass 417) or Work and Holiday visa (subclass 462), or a Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) visa. Only a small proportion of Australian citizens and permanent residents are employed in these jobs.

In 2013–14 there was a peak in the number of second-year 417 visas; this has since declined year-on-year. However, over the same time period, the number of SWP visas granted increased and, with the introduction of 462 visas in 2016–17, this body of workers has also increased. By calculating the full-time equivalents (FTEs) each visa contributes, the overall number of FTEs has increased since 2015–16.

Nevertheless, sourcing enough labour remains a significant issue for apple and pear growers, so it is important there is an ongoing and reliable supply adequate to meet their needs. Moreover, horticulture is increasing its footprint and intensity, stressing the short worker supply.

Growers recruit workers through various mechanisms including:

  • Employing ‘walk-ins’ who arrive at their farms and ask for work;
  • By arranging with a local hostel who may act to connect their residents with employers;
  • Directly advertising and employing people who they find suitable;
  • Through referrals, e.g. previous staff recommend the employer and connect their friends and family with them;
  • Staff returning year after year (relevant to SWP and resident workers); and
  • Using a labour hire provider who sources and manages the administrative aspect of employing staff.

Each growing business identifies the recruitment mechanism that works best for them. However, regardless of that mechanism, growers are responsible for their staff’s fair pay and treatment.

Growers need to be savvy about their labour needs. Use your data to assist – know how many bins to pick, when, bin picking rates etc. Being prepared helps you professionally address your labour needs, whichever source you use.

APAL is taking a leadership role to help industry employers understand their obligations and continue to improve their practices around paying and treating workers fairly. Through this work APAL also aims to bolster a fair employment culture across industry and support the creation of a level playing field to ensure growers who do the right thing are not disadvantaged.

APAL also recognises that part of the challenge is ensuring there are enough legitimate seasonal farm workers in Australia for growers to employ. Through active membership of the NFF Horticulture Council, APAL has been vocal about the need to address Australia’s growing labour challenge head-on. APAL supports the development of a tailored visa to deal with the unique challenges faced by the horticulture industry. Specifically, APAL wants a visa that attracts workers from a wider group of countries. It needs to be portable, administratively simple and low cost so as to allow small growers to participate, while also ensuring the proper safeguards to protect workers from any exploitation.

Questions from growers

Employers of seasonal farm workers must pay and treat their staff fairly and in accordance with the laws of Australia.

The most reliable place to get information about pay rates for seasonal farm workers is via the Fair Work Ombudsman website. Useful links for employers include:

Using a payroll package that automatically updates as tax and other legislated changes come into play is a good starting point. Being a member of an association which specialises in industrial relations can also be helpful.

Different states have different laws when it comes to labour hire agency licensing. As at November 2018:

To help ensure that a labour hire provider is paying workers correctly APAL recommends growers follow our ‘Hire Right’ check list.

Even if growers take all these measures, deception can still occur. The transient nature of seasonal farm work makes it hard to keep track of individual faces and names. Labour hire providers can deceive you in regard to who is working in your orchard or shed at any given time. Employees may also feel too scared to confess to problems or be unable to communicate any issues they may be experiencing in English.

Nevertheless, you should take every reasonable measure to prevent such illegal activity and the suggestions above may go some way to preventing these types of problems.

It is important to remember that regardless of how you employ staff you must provide a safe place of employment.

Some growers are investigating using innovative new fingerprint technology that could be used in the orchard to identify workers quickly and accurately on arrival on any given day. This would ensure the individuals working were legitimate and verified and would help prevent illegal treatment of workers.

Yes, it is OK to pay piece rates where the employee has agreed to them. However, it is important to be aware that individual ability varies greatly and the intent of the law is that “the average competent employee (can) earn at least 15 per cent more per hour than the relevant minimum hourly rate in the award”.

Piece rates for seasonal farm workers employed in the apple and pear industry come under the Horticulture Award 2010. The Fair Work Commission summarises piece rates under the Horticulture Award 2010 in the following way:

An employee can enter into a written agreement to be paid pieceworker rates under the Horticulture Award. This agreement has to be genuinely made without coercion or duress.

A pieceworker isn’t guaranteed a minimum hourly or weekly rate that applies to the type of work they do, or the national minimum wage. 

The piecework rate has to allow the average competent employee to earn at least 15 per cent more per hour than the relevant minimum hourly rate in the award. Casual employees also get a casual loading.

There are many factors that affect what an average competent employee is. There’s no standard across the horticulture industry.”

For growers in Victoria, Fruit Growers Victoria (FGV) publishes a piece rate guide for its members each season. To set these rates, FGV meets with key growers and analyses the bins picked, taking into consideration the length of time it takes to pick bins of fruit and environmental conditions. The price per bin that it publishes is a guide and growers are encouraged to keep productivity records to allow them to show how their rates have been calculated. Any changes must be agreed in writing by each worker.

Various certification schemes exist to help growers demonstrate that they comply with fair work practices and that their employees are fairly paid and treated. Three options are emerging in Australia:

 

  • The Fair Farms Initiative (managed by Growcom) is currently being piloted and may be rolled out nationally in 2019. It has in-principle support from the FWO and leading retailers in the domestic market. The program comprises a standard benchmarked against Australian workplace laws, employer training to improve employment standards, certification including a mechanism to enable third-party audits, and data capture to enable industry and customer reporting in relation to compliance.
  • A.P. is an international farm assurance program that certifies producers who meet safe and sustainable standards. With more than 40 standards and add-ons the program is already used by growers in Australia to certify other aspects of their productions – such as food safety.
  • Sedex is a membership organisation and collaborative platform for sharing responsible sourcing data on supply chains.

StaffSure is a certification scheme managed by the peak industry body for the recruitment and staffing industry – Recruitment Consulting Services Association. StaffSure aims to help businesses, including labour hire businesses in the horticulture industry, to prove their integrity.

 

 

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