Labour issues threaten growth

2 November 2015

The Voice of Horticulture has identified the need for flexibility in seasonal labour arrangements to maximise jobs and exports.

The horticulture industry, consisting of 30,000 businesses and with an annual turnover estimated at $10 billion, is enjoying unprecedented opportunities as free trade agreements and the move towards a healthy diet increases demand for fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts.

However the relatively high cost of labour means that the Australian growers are at a disadvantage globally and need to be highly productive and innovative to maintain competitive prices domestically.

Exports, currently valued at around $2 billion a year have the potential to reach $10 billion by 2025. Tania Chapman, chair of the voice of Horticulture believes that “As the largest agricultural employer in Australia and a key industry across regional Australia it is important that the potential of the industry is captured.”

“Whilst there are great opportunities for the sector there are several issues of concern and labour issues is near the top of the list” , according to Ms. Chapman.

“Australia produces an excellent product and because of our tight biosecurity controls and chemical regulations we offer safe, quality produce from environmentally responsible farms” she said.

Horticulture businesses rate labour costs as a key issue impacting on growth. At August 2014, 61,000 were employed in the sector with a further 6,250 in fruit and vegetable processing. Most horticulture industries remain labour intensive. As such, the availability of a seasonal casual workforce is critical to the industry. Many regional economies and their rural townships are heavily dependent upon their horticulture industries for employment or servicing the seasonal workforces engaged by them.

The commercial realities of the horticultural sector often involve split shifts and constant production during peak periods. Australian workers are not always available to meet the labour demand of the sector due to seasonality, remoteness and relative appeal of urban jobs, and the resultant gaps in the labour market therefore requires the reliance upon foreign workers to supplement labour requirements in peak periods. Particularly, the Seasonal Worker Program provides valuable unskilled and low skilled labour to meet short, peak demands.

The recent abolition of the tax free threshold for foreign workers and possible changes to the Modern Horticulture Award are likely to impact significantly on the attractiveness of this work.

According to Donna Mogg, acting CEO of Growcom, the peak representative body for Queensland horticulture “Changes to the Modern Horticulture award foreshadowed in 2016 need to be carefully considered. Penalty rates, minimum hire periods and the payment of compulsory superannuation are all issues that can impact significantly on industry competitiveness.”

“Produce needs to be harvested in peak condition and does not fit into a Monday to Friday work program. Harvesting can also be interrupted by weather events and growers cannot have their harvesting team idle whilst being paid.” “We are hoping that the Fair Work Commission will give due recognition to the unique circumstances of the industry,” she said.

 

Media contacts

Tania Chapman
Chair, Voice of Horticulture
0428 291 717
chair@voiceofhorticulture.org.au 

John Dollisson
Director, Voice of Horticulture
0413 111 123
director@voiceofhorticulture.org.au 

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