The Australian Workers Union will today apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to amend the current horticulture award to ensure farm workers receive the minimum casual wage of $24.80 an hour. Under the current agreement, employers can avoid paying the minimum hourly rate by using the "piece rate" where workers are paid according to the amount of fruit or vegetables they are able to pick. Two weeks ago, it became known that some foreign backpacker workers employed to pick blueberries on the New South Wales north coast were paid as little as $3 an hour through the "piece rate" arrangement.
The FWC is Australia's independent workplace relations tribunal charged with, among other functions, setting minimum wages in awards.
AWU national secretary Daniel Walton told the ABC that growing evidence of systemic underpayments through the use of shady labour-hire firms showed minimum conditions for workers needed to be nailed down in law. "This industry has become the epicentre for exploitation around the country. People know in every corner of Australia that the fruit and vegetable industry by and large has some of the worst exploitation that's going on," Mr Walton told abc.net.au.
"We want this industry to offer people decent jobs. But until we start cleaning up and getting proper enforcement in this industry, unfortunately stories of people getting $3 an hour will continue."