Labor picks fight with farm piece rates in a move critics say could drive producers to the wall

The federal opposition states farm employees require to be ensured a base pay if they are paid according to just how much fruit and vegetables they select.

Labor has actually tossed its assistance behind a union project to modify the gardening employees award in a move farmers declare could drive them out of service.

Speaking in Sydney today, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese stated fruit pickers should be ensured of earning the base pay of $19.84 per hour.

“What we’re saying is there should be a minimum rate,” he stated.

Under the award, the piece rate enables employees to be paid according to the quantity of fruit they gather, and should use the typical employee up to 15 percent more per hour than the base pay.

Mr Albanese stated it had actually led to employees being underpaid and made use of.

Unions require minimum pay warranty

The Australian Workers’ Union has lodged a submission to the Fair Work Commission looking for to modify the award to guarantee a minimum payment for those paid piece rates.

Farmers claim to depend on the piece rate system to increase performance amongst employees, however unions say it has actually led to exploitation of susceptible employees.

A brand-new research study by Unions NSW, launched today, claims farm employees are making just $1.25 an hour, regardless of a extensive labour shortage exacerbated by COVID-19 travel constraints.

Based on interviews with 100 employees and an audit of 1,000 task ads using farm work, the report stated “96 per cent of piece rates advertised would not allow workers to earn the national minimum wage, and in several instances workers would earn less than $1 an hour”.

“No worker receives above the minimum wage if they are on piece rates; in fact, piece rates provide wages as low as $2 to $5 an hour for workers,” Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey stated.

A young man in a baseball cap picks red apples in an orchard
A brand-new union research study states some farm employees are making just $1.25 an hour. (



The research study, entitled Wage Theft: Shadow Market, reported per hour rates fell to as low as $1.25 for blueberries, $4.10 for peaches, $4.89 for strawberries and $4.90 for grapes.

One backpacker’s story

For Taiwanese backpacker Johnson, dealing with a Queensland strawberry farm last for a piece rate was “a disaster”.

“It should be $100 at least, I think, but they didn’t pay me for hourly job, it was how many kilos I pick and then they pay me like 60 cents per kilo, maybe lower.

“I’ve never ever dealt with a farm prior to so I do not understand if this rate is regular so I simply do it.”

Johnson, who declined to give his surname out of concern for his job prospects, has left Queensland and now works in Tasmania, where he says he is earning much better wages with a different contractor.

He says there are times when earning the piece rate has worked in his favour.

“It depends, on the condition of the fruit … if there’s a great deal of fruit I do not desire to work an hourly task, however if the season simply get going or has to do with to end, then I choose to work in an hourly task.”

‘Losing piece rates will close farms’

The National Farmers’ Federation [NFF] said any cases of exploitation or underpayment should be reported to the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Ben Rogers, the NFF’s general manager of workplace relations and legal affairs, said farmers were reliant on piece rates to drive productivity and without them some farmers would be forced to close.

“You’ll simply be driving a entire lot of growers and little growers out of service and out of the economy,” he stated.

“Those rogue operators are going to exploit people and they’ll find other ways to do that, but attacking piece rates and denying the sector a key productivity tool is just not the way to go about solving that issue.”

The matter is anticipated to come in the past the Fair Work Commission in July.

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