Australian Fair Work Commission rules that farm workers on piece rate entitled to minimum wage

Friday, November 5, 2021

Strawberries in picking season at a Queensland farm.
Image: User:Kgbo.

Australia's Fair Work Commission determined Tuesday farm workers being paid for each "piece" of fruit and vegetable harvested under a piece rate are required to be paid the minimum rate for casual workers under the Horticulture Award, or A$25.41 per hour.

In their ruling, the Commission unanimously "expressed the view that the existing pieceworker provisions in the Horticulture Award are not fit for purpose", and determined "the insertion of a minimum wage floor in clause 15.2 [of the Horticulture Award] is necessary to ensure that the Horticulture Award achieves the minimum wages objective". Clause 15.2 is the section of the Horticulture Award which concerns the rate of pay for piece rate workers.

The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) lodged an application with the Commission on December 15, 2020, seeking to ensure that every farm worker was paid at least the minimum wage under the Horticulture Award. The application drew support from numerous organisations, according to the Commission: the United Workers Union, Australian Council of Social Service, the Uniting Church of Australia, and 88 Days and Counting, as well as the state governments of Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia.

AWU secretary Dan Walton told ABC News after the ruling, "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." Walton also declared the ruling was "among the great victories of our union's 135-year history".

This stance was opposed by several other organisations, including The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance, Australian Industry Group, Fruit Growers Tasmania, Lucaston Park Orchards, Payne’s Farm Contracting, and the National Farmers' Federation (NFF), according to the Commission, with ABC News reporting the NFF specifically was against the ruling on the grounds farmers could go out of business as a result, and that piece work was beneficial for productivity.