There have been mixed reactions among fruit pickers and growers in South Australia's Riverland following a ruling from the Fair Work Commission that workers on a piece rate must be guaranteed a minimum wage. The Industry is concerned about the change and says cost may increase, and be passed on to consumers. The commission handed down its decision on Wednesday night, finding the existing piece rate provisions under the Horticulture Award were not fit for purpose.
As explained on abc.net.au¸ piece rate pay is still able to be implemented by farmers, but it must total at least the minimum casual wage of $25.51 an hour. The decision will have a significant effect on the Riverland, the state's food bowl, where thousands of farmworkers are employed across citrus, stone fruit, and almond orchards each year.
NT farmers ‘not concerned’ by Fair Work decision
The chief executive officer of NT Farmers has said the Fair Work Commission's draft decision to guarantee fruit pickers a minimum wage was not a concern to the Territory's producers.
"Piece rates are not widely used in the Territory, the majority of our produce is picked by groups of workers, not individuals," said Paul Burke. "NT Farmers will always support 'a fair day's work for a fair day's pay'."
Katherinetimes.com.au also quoted him as saying: "NT Farmers are committed to ensuring that all workers are treated fairly and appropriately compensated for their work on farms."
Recommendation would impede horticulture
Riverina orange grower Johanna Brighenti-Barnard said the recommendation could force her family to turn their backs on any idea of expansion and possibly look to broadacre farming instead of growing navel oranges.
"This year has been particularly challenging with the lack of containers for export and shipping costs that have jumped $200 a ton but deliver a poorer service. If there is to be a minimum wage on top of this for our harvest, then there is no incentive. Our costs would just blow out. They would be uncontrollable.”
"If we pay by the hour, our output will drop, costs per ton will increase, and our harvest window will increase. We will need to employ even more people to supervise, which would increase our costs and put further stress on the business in our busiest and most stressful times of the year" she said.