Just prior to Christmas 2020 the Australian Workers Union (AWU) lodged an application with the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to vary the Horticulture Award 2020.

The application has two components:

  1. It seeks to install a ‘floor’ on piecework arrangements, so that the worker must earn at least the minimum hourly rate (presently $24.80 for casuals; and
  2. It will require employers to keep a record of the pieceworker’s hours as a “time and wages” record.

The AWU’s arguments in support of the application are:

  • Piece rates without a ‘floor’ create a loophole in the ‘safety net’ which the modern award system is meant to establish.
  • The majority of casual pieceworkers earn well below the minimum hourly rate.
  • Australians would be attracted to work in horticulture if a ‘floor’ were set because they would be better remunerated for their work.
  • The change would not affect productivity because:

“lawful business operations are already paying pieceworkers above minimum wage, and any additional regulatory burden (i.e. keeping records) would be minimal.”

  • The current arrangements are impossible for employees (who are often foreign language speakers and new to the sector) to understand or know whether they are being properly applied.

The NFF and the NFF Horticulture Council intend to oppose the application.

The Fair Work Commission Proceedings

The FWC has established a timetable for preparing the matter leading up to a hearing in July 2021:

  • Parties supporting the application (AWU) must file and serve submissions and evidence by 5 March 2021.
  • Parties opposing the application (NFF) must file and evidence and submissions by 14 May 2021.
  • Parties supporting the Application (AWU) must file any evidence in reply by 11 June 2021.
  • The application will be heard from 6 to 8 July 2021.

Request for Grower Input

The NFF is looking for growers who use piece rates to engage in this process. In addition to providing relevant background about the farm business and employment practices, industry will need to provide evidence of workers who are supportive of piece rate arrangements.

If you use piece rates and are prepared to offer your input, please contact Ben Rogers at BRogers@nff.org.au or 02 6269 5666 to discuss the full NFF request to growers.

Source material:  Ben Rogers, National Farmers Federation