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Piece rate decision is a heavy burden for a few bad eggs

Industry Advocacy

The Australian Fair Work Commission has released its draft decision recommending a minimum hourly rate for all employees under the Horticultural Award. The Commission’s announcement will see two key changes – the floor rate will be legislated equal to the casual rate, and growers will need to keep a record of hours worked. 

APAL argues that if the draft decision goes ahead the apple and pear industry will incur a heavy burden for the non-compliance and poor administration practices of a small number of horticultural industry members. 

“The examples cited by the Commission have never been acceptable in our industry,” said APAL CEO Phil Turnbull.  

“Members who have been paying hourly rates and piece rates in compliance with the requirements now face the prospect of even more administration and reporting, and employees and employers will lose flexibility and incentives,” said Phil. 

The Commission is calling for further submissions on the draft decision and has indicated it may make its final determination on 16 December 2021. 

“We are considering the full details of this decision and will ensure our industry’s views are shared with the commission by the December deadline,” said Phil. 

The Commission has not signalled an implementation date, however past-experience suggests growers can expect a short window, with little if any consideration of seasonal impact. 

“We are urging members to review their employment systems and make sure they are ready to respond if, and or, when any changes are confirmed – and there’s a genuine risk this could be prior or even during harvest,” said Phil.  

“If, as we fear, the Commission proceeds with its decision, we are also calling on them to adopt an implementation timeline that reflects the significant business impact,” said Phil. 

“This decision will require orchard businesses to review and revise already compliant labour management policies, practices and systems, to train up orchard team leaders, and to find the resources needed for the additional administration and record keeping.”  

“It’s ridiculous to expect this can happen overnight, and even more alarming to think these demands could kick-in just prior or during harvest.”  

“If the decision is confirmed, for at least the balance of the current financial year, the Fair Work Commission should focus its efforts in three areas. Firstly, education, working with industry to transition to any new requirements. Secondly, raising awareness to ensure employees understand their rights and how to report concerns, and third, ensure the enforcement agencies activities are properly resourced and targeting instances of genuine non-compliance,” said Phil.  

APAL also believes the latest decision will encourage orchard businesses to make greater use of Pacific Labour Scheme, Seasonal Worker Programme and the promised Ag Visa. 

“These programs are far more likely to deliver value than sources that are motivated by non-financial factors – for example the minimum 88 days that allows a backpacker to extend their holiday visa,” said Phil. 

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