The price of fruit is set to rise as a major change to fruit picker’s wages are revealed.
A major change to how fruit pickers are paid has led to calls for the supermarket giants to not saddle farmers with rising costs and instead ask consumers to pay more.
In a win for workers, the Fair Work Commission said existing piece rate provisions were “not fit for purpose” and ruled workers must be guaranteed a minimum wage, currently $25.41 per hour.
“The existing piece worker provisions in the Horticulture Award are not fit for purpose. They do not provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net as required by the Act,” it said.
A piece rate means the employee is paid for the amount picked, packed or pruned. So, the more a worker harvests, the more they are paid. Under the current award, an employee and employer can agree to be paid a piece rate or an hourly rate.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said while he respected the decision of the independent umpire, he was concerned the supermarket giants would not act in good faith.
“It’s very early days and that’s why I think industry will be working through the determination,” the deputy Nationals leader told NCA Newswire.
“But it’s important that supermarkets don’t ask farmers to continue to absorb costs, that those costs pass through to the checkout.”
“Unfortunately, supermarkets have a very poor record on supporting Australian agriculture particularly in terms of cost of production, and that reflects the being reflected at checkout. They put a lot of pressure on farmers.”
He noted that the FWC ruling did not make away with piece rates, which a serious concern of industry.
Australian Workers Union secretary Dan Walton labelled the decision “historic win” for farm workers who have been paid below the award wage.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Asked if he hoped the guaranteed wage would see more people travel to the regions to pick fruit, Mr Littleproud was not confident.
“Unfortunately, we‘ve seen a significant shift in society’s dynamic. They don’t want to do this work,” he told NCA Newswire.
“We’ve incentivised a number of incentives in place to bring Australians to do this work and they simply won’t take it up. So we continue to rely heavily on on overseas workers.”
The FWC is now taking submissions to its proposed determination.