Unintended consequences of new farm labour regulations
By Beth Orton Preparations for the peak fruit-picking season are ramping up across Australian farms, and growers are in the midst of planning and recruiting their seasonal labour force to ensure they can maximise the yields from their summer fruit and vegetable crops.
However, growers’ associations are raising concerns about the adverse effects of changes to the Horticulture Award (the Fair Work Ombudsman’s conditions under which seasonal workers are paid). Growers are worried that these changes will harm their profitability and will also stall efforts to reduce worker exploitation and improve the industry’s reputation.
Changes to the Horticulture Award that came into effect in April of this year alter the payment conditions for casual employees, specifically the payment of overtime, night and public holiday loadings.
The new loadings for casual workers (incorporating the 25% casual loading) paid on the award hourly rates are:
- overtime loading (175%) for more than 12 hours’ work in one day or session, or more than 304 hours’ work over an eight-week period (that is, more than a 38-hour week on average for eight weeks)
- night loading (140%) for hours worked outside ‘ordinary work hours’, that is, from 8.31pm to 4.59am (or 7.31pm to 3.59am where daylight savings is not observed)
- public holiday loading (225%) for work performed on any state or territory gazetted public holidays.
Casual workers were not previously entitled to any overtime or night loadings. Unions argued that they should be, and the Fair Work Ombudsman agreed.
On the face of it, these are positive changes for horticultural workers. They come in addition to the increased enforcement of workplace regulations, and supply chain initiatives introduced in an industry beset with cases of worker exploitation, use of undocumented workers, and poor working conditions.
Some growers and labour hire companies, however, believe that the changes to the Award could have the …read more