Australian growers are pushing back against union moves to see minimum wage rates granted to fruit pickers and seasonal workers. The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) announced on Wednesday that it would apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to have the horticulture award amended to ensure workers received the minimum casual wage of $24.80 an hour.
According to AWU national secretary Daniel Walton, 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. But grower advocacy group FNQ Growers said putting a floor price under the piece rate — in which workers are paid according to the amount of fruit or vegetables they pick — effectively made it the same as an award rate.
Citrus Australia chief executive Nathan Hancock said industry should be consulted if there were going to be changes made to the horticulture award. "I'd have to see the detail of this, but we wouldn't want to see any changes that took away productivity.” Hancock said if the pay balance was not right, efficiency on farms could be affected.
"I think a lot of the issues that we see reported are generated through poor behaviour in the labour hire sector. I'm not tarring everyone with the same brush, but when we have a situation where the states have different or no regulation around labour hire companies, we have gaps and loopholes that can be exploited. I think the way to address this is through a national labour hire licensing scheme."