The Australian Workers’ Union claims it has secured an historic industrial win for one of the most vulnerable and exploited groups of workers in Australia – fruit pickers.
The Fair Work Commission has ruled in favour of the AWU after the union sought to amend the Horticulture Award to guarantee every worker on every farm is entitled to take home the minimum casual rate of pay, currently $25.41 per hour.
The National Farmers Federation, AiG, and other employer groups opposed the AWU’s case, defending the system of employing workers through piece rate arrangements.
With piece rates, workers are paid depending on the quantity of fruit picked or vegetables they pick. And in some instances of inexperienced workers not suited to this work practise it has led to widespread incidences of workers getting paid as little as $3 an hour.
However, the FWC ruled in favour of the AWU finding “the existing pieceworker provisions in the Horticulture Award are not fit for purpose; they do not provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net.”
And while many small farm operations will choose not to hire casual workers on the new rate and instead close their operations, the AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton said it was one of the most significant industrial decisions of modern times.
“I believe this decision ranks among the great victories of our union’s 135-year history,” Mr Walton said.
AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton went on to say, “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.
“The changes our union proposed, and that the FWC has now accepted, will put a safety net under fruit pickers to ensure they get what every worker in Australia deserves: a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
“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. From now on if you’re making less than $25 an hour fruit picking in Australia your boss is breaking the law and stealing from you.
“I expect the federal government will join the NFF in fear mongering about this decision. After all they have just hatched a plan to bring in even more easily exploited workers from South East Asia. But now those workers can at least know if they’re being exploited. A clear floor has been put in place.
“This decision is not just a huge win for our union and for workers, but for regional and rural Australia. Workers who earn more, spend more in local shops. They pay tax. They rent local houses and contribute to regional communities.
“The so-called labour shortage in fruit picking has, in large part, been created by greedy employers destroying Australian working conditions. This decision is a huge step along the path to fixing this.” AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton concluded.