The national Fair Farms Initiative (FFI) designed to improve workplace relations practices across Australian horticulture was given an additional $1.5m in ongoing funding last week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the ongoing funding for the FFI Monday, 5 November following discussions at the recent National Farmer’s Federation (NFF) Congress, where he spoke about the proposed new Ag Visa.
The FFI is being delivered by Queensland peak body Growcom on behalf of the Fair Work Ombudsman and is specifically designed to address issues around farm workers who are vulnerable to exploitation.
Growcom Chief Advocate Rachel Mackenzie presented the new initiative during the apple and pear industry state association’s meeting held at APAL on Monday, 8 October. She said the Fair Farms Certification has been designed to standardise the industry and ensure collaboration when finding a solution for labour challenges.
“It’s an opportunity for growers to demonstrate good practices to supply chain partners, especially retailers,” Rachel said.
The pilot program began in September this year and a full roll-out is expected in early 2019.
The FFI is made up of five elements including: Supporting employers to ensure they achieve compliance with Fair Work laws through seminars and training; Building awareness of fair employment practices through industry driven and supported content, field days and conferences; Certification and market recognition; Showcasing and celebrating good practice by introducing the Fair Employer of the Year Award at HortCon 2019; and providing human resource qualifications for orcharding businesses.
Currently there is no meaningful or mutually recognised standard benchmarked against Australian workplace law. The Fair Farms Certification will:
- introduce an industry owned and developed standard;
- offer a coordinated system of quality training to support growers in understanding their obligations;
- provide a step-by-step pathway to certification and utilise an audit mechanism to ensure cost-effective audits by competent auditors;
- be a credible certification that can provide certainty and transparency to the supply chain, in particular retailers, to enable differentiation between good and bad operators; and
- capture data to ensure the horticulture industry is compliant.
Woolworths and Aldi have both signaled they will accept the FFI, ensuring that growers will need to comply with the initiative to sell their produce. Rachel explained that an audit is inevitable, and growers will want to be able to provide their certified credentials when the time comes.
“While most growers aim to do the right thing, it can be challenging to ensure that employment procedures and record keeping systems are fully compliant with workplace relations laws. This system will ensure they are fully compliant when the time comes to be audited,” Rachel said.
Currently, the main visa for seasonal agriculture workers in Australia is the Seasonal Workers Program (SWP), but it operates with the condition that workers are tied to a single employer, which can expose them to exploitation. There is currently no way for other seasonal workers, such as backpackers, to differentiate between growers with good labour practices and those without.
“It’s important for industry bodies, like Growcom and APAL, to build awareness of fair employment practices and take a proactive stance amongst employers and workers. Many growers have a strong commitment to maintaining good employment practices and treating workers fairly, but as an industry we cannot deny there is a problem,” Rachel said.
Introduction of the FFI will be challenging but a successful standardised certification will provide a much better way for employers to prove they are adhering to labour guidelines. It will also improve workplace relations in the industry by making labour practices much more visible. Following the recent funding announcement, Growcom has employed a Program Manager to oversee the project.
Growers are encouraged to learn more and register their interest on the Growcom website.