The Fair Work Commission late yesterday have acceded in their draft determination to all variations the Australian Workers Union had requested to piecework provisions within the Horticulture Award. 

In particular, these variations include a new floor for the earnings for pieceworkers so that they’re guaranteed the minimum hourly rate regardless of productivity, and a new requirement on employers to keep a record of all hours worked by a pieceworker for the purposes of enabling monitoring and enforcing the floor.

Growcom Chief Executive Officer Stephen Barnard has said the decision is not just a blow for many employers who will no longer able to afford to offer piecerates because they can’t pay hourly rates for unproductive workers or carry the extra administration burden.

“Most significantly the decision is also another blow for individual workers within our industry who are only trying to get ahead, and who will now have far fewer employment options where they can make great money through their own hard work and initiative,” said Mr Barnard. 

“This is the second successive change the Fair Work Commission has made to the Horticulture Award, against the advice of the industry, which works against the interests of workers.

“Back in April 2019 the Commission decided to introduce overtime provisions into the award, all in the name of “modernising” our industrial relations system by treating all industries, employers and employees exactly the same regardless of industry peculiarities, including market power and the capacity of employers to pass on higher costs of labour.

“In response to a national survey Growcom lead designed to capture impacts of overtime introduction, over 60 percent of employers reported staff had elected to end their employment with you due to a reduction in their hours.

“We know for many growers labour is their most significant input cost. If they can’t wear these increased costs of offering piecerates, then our real concern is that we’ll see another exodus from horticulture of the most willing and motivated workers right in the middle of a severe labour shortage when we need them the most.

“And looking forward, we need more employers offering rewarding peicerate work if we’re going to attract more Australians to our industry, and also more workers through Pacific labour programs and the new Agriculture Visa.

The Fair Work Commission has called for submissions in response to the proposed draft variation determination by Friday 26 November 2021. No date has been set for a final determination, or for the start of the new provisions.