THE Australian Workers’ Union has accused Queensland horticulture group, Growcom, of encouraging employers to rush through new enterprise agreements before changes are made to overtime entitlements for casual employees.
The AWA says Growcom is pushing employers in the industry to stitch up new enterprise agreements despite a 2017 Fair Work Commission (FWC) recommendation that the Horticulture Award needs clarification for casuals.
According to the AWU, since May 2018, about 100 different applications have been made to the FWC seeking approval for enterprise agreements for the horticulture industry.
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"The proposed agreements are in very similar terms and are clearly intended to deny overtime entitlements to casual employees for four years ahead of the Horticulture Award being varied," an AWU statement said.
AWU national secretary, Daniel Walton, labelled it "cynical and unethical".
“I urge Growcom to halt this strategy. The last thing that the overworked and underpaid workers in this industry need is employers coordinating efforts against them," Mr Walton said.
“The new overtime entitlements are actually generous for farmers compared to conditions in other industries.
"They adequately take into account challenges faced by farmers in terms of harvest periods and the weather. They should not be dodged.”
But Growcom chief executive officer, David Thomson, said he wasn't sure how good the AWU's crystal ball was.
"I don't know when the new award will be implemented but the way the law works for regional Australia, you can only work within the laws of the day," Mr Thomson said.
"Two years later, it still hasn't been implemented so our growers of course have businesses to run and people to employ so they've got to have a framework to put in place.
"Growcom's position is that we advise our growers to work within the industrial legislation that's mandated by the Fair Work Commission.
"We help them create enterprise agreements that are entirely within the law at the time."
The AWU's Mr Walton said combatting poor conditions in the horticulture sector was pivotal to the national interest, and employers should be doing their bit.
“We are now witnessing the ludicrous spectacle of the National Party pushing for new laws to allow foreign farm workers to stay longer in Australia, when they should be backing Australians to do the work,” Mr Walton said.
“If farmers and growers actually paid the employees the award there wouldn’t be a labour shortage problem in the sector.
“If any other industry had these ongoing issues around exploitation they would rightly be told to get their house in order before government offered to bring in cheap overseas labour."
Growcom's Mr Thomson said horticulture's seasonal nature and need for a strong workforce for several months was suited to specific workers.
"The AWU has this view that we all want to have permanent jobs and work Monday to Friday and have weekends off. That's not the way horticulture works," he said.
"Enterprise agreements reflect that seasonality. Everything we do with Enterprise Agreements reflects the needs of the growers and they are entirely within the laws of the land.
"The only reason that Growcom and the National Farmers' Federation is looking to have these backpackers or seasonal workers or holiday visas is that we can't get 18 - 24 year old young Australians to do the jobs."