Making the new piecework floor work for you
Can the new piece-rate floor attract workers?
Every change is an opportunity.
Like it or not, the new piecework floor is now required
By now you will have been inundated with information about the new piece rate regime that came into effect on 28 April 2022. Regardless of what you think of the changes introduced by the Fair Work Commission, you will know that switching to the new system will be a challenging time.
The reality is that this change has been forced upon the industry and there is nothing that can be legally done to make it go away, but smart operators will already be looking to see how they can take advantage of it. Some labour hire contractors and workers will be rubbing their hands with glee for the opportunities it presents to them. Growers and employers too should be looking to see how they can make the new scenario work for them.
The way we were
One of the big issues of the moment is the under-supply of seasonal labour. A reason seasonal work on horticulture farms has not been popular with potential workers has been the difficulty to make decent money under piecework provisions until they are experienced or proficient. While experienced farmworkers often insist on piecerate jobs, many backpackers in particular have been very reticent to take up piecework. They frequently seek only shed work or other hourly paid jobs.
A worker experienced in a particular task, or simply someone who is fit, work-hardened and knows what to expect on a farm, can hit the ground running and earn well. But someone who doesn’t usually work outdoors, isn’t physically fit, and is motivated by the opportunity to simply do just enough days of work to qualify for an extended visa rather than earning a living, is not the ideal candidate to be a productive worker. This has often meant low piecework earnings during an extended learning phase, and workers not sticking it out long enough to get significantly faster.
However, now with a floor on piecework earnings set at the wage that worker would otherwise earn as an hourly rate, this means a worker will earn a full wage from their first day. There are likely to be two outcomes:
- The worker will be more satisfied with immediate full earnings and likely to stay longer
- The employer will be making a significant effort to ensure the worker becomes productive quickly because they need a return on the full wage they will be required to pay.
In practical terms a worker who does not quickly become productive will be too expensive to employ and will be replaced. Unfortunately, at the moment the opportunity to replace that worker may be limited.
If a farm has got a good induction and training process in place, and the employer or their supervisors are skilled and patient at instructing new employees, the percentage of successful workers who are worth keeping on, will be far higher than an enterprise who has neither.
And if a farm has a good percentage strike rate with employees that they commence, attracting more applicants will become a double advantage.
Dangling fresh bait
For quite a while yet the level of awareness of the new piece-rate minimum wage regime will be low. This will especially be the case amongst visa holders, particularly those with limited English, and new arrivals. While word-of-mouth will get the message across eventually, the detail of the changes will not be fully understood for some time.
So, take advantage of this ‘bedding in’ period by promoting your positions with the wages and conditions that you now have to legally provide. Consider a potential worker who sees two jobs advertisements such as these examples below, and it will be obvious which one will be pursued.
- Fruit picking work to start at the end of the month and available for 8 weeks.
- Fruit picking work to start at the end of the month and available for 8 weeks. Fully paid induction and training provided and a guaranteed minimum hourly wage for anyone who starts as a casual worker.
Even though the second description is only stating conditions that are a legal requirement anyway, for anyone who is not aware of the piecework floor, the guaranteed wage could sound very enticing. For anyone who might be working for an employer who is stealing wages by paying below legal rates, this may well entice them across to the legal employer. And for those that are aware, it stresses that this employer is legally safe to work for.
For an employer in any industry, the more applicants you have, the more good workers you have to choose from. And if you have more good staff, you have less underperformers you need to motivate to bring up to speed. You win both ways.
Hurry, limited time only
There will only be a narrow window of opportunity for this to work. Once the new system is established and becomes normal working conditions that every worker expects, it will only have minimal impact. But while labour supply remains tight, and every farm is competing against every other farm for a limited number of workers in the available pool, take advantage by making yourself noticed.
As backpackers and others start to return to Australia and top up the depleted labour pool, making your farm enterprise an employer of choice in the meantime might just get you through this critical time until circumstances return to ‘normal’. However, don’t be complacent, there will be a new challenge lurking over the horizon!