Horticulture Modern Award changes would be a disaster

8th March 2016

A Voice of Horticulture survey of horticulture growers has forecast disastrous consequences if the Fair Work Commission approves changes to the Horticulture modern Award

Growers have voiced their strong opposition to union proposed changes to the Horticulture Modern Award, with many reporting that increased wage costs would cause them to walk away.

Analysis of a recent Voice of Horticulture Labour Issues Survey has been completed by Dr Alice de Jonge, senior lecturer in the Department of Business Law and Taxation at Monash University.

The Survey attracted a large number of respondents from across the fruit, nut, cutflower and vegetable industries. Whilst 75% of the respondents were considered small growers (less than 50 harvest workers), 55% of them have been farming more than 25 years.

According to Dr de Jonge, “It is obvious that the combined impact of a four hour minimum hire period and overtime rates paid to casuals would have significant effects on the overwhelming majority of the industry”.

Of an average of 49 harvest workers, 41 of these are likely to be employed under the Horticulture Modern Award.

The obligation to pay overtime to casuals would therefore be a threat to many businesses. Growers comments included, ”It would be time to close down my farm” and “We would employ no-one. Less tax revenue, less jobs for Australia, sheer madness.”

According to Dr de Jonge these types responses were unfortunately common.   “At peak harvest season, casual employees formed by far the largest proportion of workers – around 84% - the equivalent of  17,313 staff employed by survey respondents. “

Dr de Jonge also advised that 78% of respondents reported that labour costs were more than 25% of total operating costs; with 35% of growers reporting labour costs of more than 40% of costs.

“With the proportionally high costs of labour and the large percentage of casual workers employed, it is clear that the proposed changes to the Modern Horticulture Award would devastate many businesses, at least in the absence of higher prices from supermarkets and other farm customers”, she said.

The Voice of Horticulture has teamed up with the National Farmers Federation to defend the current Modern Award provisions.

According to the chair of the Voice of Horticulture, Tania Chapman, there is considerable passion communicated through the survey. “Our industry has great prospects for growth in exports, investment and jobs but proposed changes in the award would put all of this in jeopardy” she said.

“The matter of the award review is easily the most difficult and important issue facing growers in 2016. The potential for claims, around 4 hour minimum engagement periods and overtime and weekend penalty rates for casuals, will add tens of thousands of dollars to growers’ input costs is genuine.”

Media contacts

Tania Chapman
Chair, Voice of Horticulture
0428 291 717

John Dollisson
Director, Voice of Horticulture
0413 111 123

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