Seasonal Fruit Pickers Are Finally Covered Under Minimum Wage Requirements
"Too many farmers have been able to manipulate the piece rate system to establish pay and conditions far beneath Australian standards."
The Fair Work Commission has finally moved to include fruit picking workers in minimum wage requirements under the Horticulture Award, marking a significant step in the right direction towards ending exploitative working conditions in Australia.
Previously, workers who were employed on a piece rate (AKA you get paid per piece of fruit you pick) were not covered under minimum wage requirements.
The Australian Workers Union first lodged a complaint about this back in December, arguing that all workers — including those on a piece rate — should be covered under minimum wage requirements, which guarantee at least $25.41 per hour as a casual.
In a landmark decision handed down yesterday, the Fair Work Commission “expressed the view that the existing pieceworker provisions in the Horticulture Award are not fit for purpose”.
“They do not provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net as required by the Act,” the Commission’s findings said. “The Full Bench was satisfied that the insertion of a minimum wage floor with consequential time recording provisions in the piecework clause is necessary to ensure that the Horticulture Award achieves the modern awards objective.”
As expected with any Fair Work legislation, the people footing the bill — in this case, the National Farmers’ Federation — have been quick to assert that paying a minimum wage could drive farmers out of business, or at least, drive up the price of fruit. But the reality is that paying a living wage should be a non-negotiable, and businesses that cannot do this should not operate.
The ruling is particularly huge for fruit pickers — a seasonal workforce made up largely of people on working holiday visas, young people or others who are easily exploited — who will now have a clear guideline of their minimum legal requirements.
It goes without saying that these sorts of legislations aren’t a magic fix for the historic issues of exploitation in the seasonal workforce, especially in the case of people employed on working visas. However, it must be stressed that this is a major step in the right direction.
With a flat minimum wage of $25.41 per hour for anyone on a piece rate, it is much easier for workers to identify — and fight — wage theft in the industry.
“I believe this decision ranks among the great victories of our union’s 135-year history,” AWU national secretary Dan Walton told the ABC of the decision. “Fruit pickers in Australia have been routinely and systemically exploited and underpaid.
“Too many farmers have been able to manipulate the piece rate system to establish pay and conditions far beneath Australian standards.
“Now it will be easy for workers — even if they don’t have good English language skills or Australian connections — to understand if they’re being ripped off.