Concept of "fair" a lot to chew on | OPINION

Concept of "fair" a lot to chew on | OPINION

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Opinion
PICKED: The declaration that fruit pickers should be paid a minimum wage has drawn mixed reactions from the industry but plenty are concerned about the extra costs to growers. Picture: Shutterstock.

PICKED: The declaration that fruit pickers should be paid a minimum wage has drawn mixed reactions from the industry but plenty are concerned about the extra costs to growers. Picture: Shutterstock.

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Is the Fair Work Commission's ruling on the Hort Award fair? That depends.

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THE idea of "what's fair" is relative.

To someone, a decision may be reasonable and just, whereas that same decision to others may seem prejudiced and unacceptable.

The Fair Work Commission has decided that the piece rate payment system used to employ a large proportion of fruit and vegetable pickers and packers, was not fair. "Not fit for purpose" were its precise words.

Consequently, the horticulture industry is facing the very real possibility that workers under the Horticulture Award will be paid the minimum casual rate of $25.41 per hour.

This has brought a mixed response from varying corners of the industry.

Some have pointed out that experienced and highly skilled workers will be disadvantaged because their skillsets aren't as valued, while others have praised the move saying it will help weed out rogue operators.

Berries Australia chair Peter McPherson put it back on the supply chain to ensure sourcing of products from growers who can show they are legally compliant.

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"It's all well and good to raise the bar but if there continue to be minimal consequences for doing the wrong thing in terms of fines or access to markets then it will be good growers who go out of business as a result of this decision," Mr McPherson said.

The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance delivered a similar tone, saying: "Whether purchasing directly, or indirectly, buyers must not ignore this and need to ensure that their supply chains are only made up of employers that are ready, willing and able to meet the new standards set in the Award. Non-compliance can no longer be rewarded."

National Farmers' Federation chief executive officer Tony Mahar described it as a bitter blow.

"The increase in wage costs, most farm's largest input, threatens to make the most productive workers unaffordable," Mr Mahar said.

"The loss of these workers will put a handbrake on agriculture's growth, at a time when our country can least afford it."

ON THE COVER: Horticulture workers may soon be paid a minimum wage. Read the industry's reactions on p6-7. Picture: Shutterstock.

ON THE COVER: Horticulture workers may soon be paid a minimum wage. Read the industry's reactions on p6-7. Picture: Shutterstock.

Apple and Pear Australia Limited CEO Phil Turnbull said the decision means massive amounts of administration for orchard businesses and that it was "alarming to think these demands could kick-in just prior or during harvest".

The Australian Workers' Union who took the initial case to the FWC, was obviously overjoyed by the outcome, with AWU national secretary Daniel Walton calling it one of the most significant industrial decisions of modern times.

"I believe this decision ranks among the great victories of our union's 135-year history," Mr Walton said.

Curiously, would those same union players agree it was unfair for a grower to receive a price from the wholesaler or supermarket at below the cost of production?

Probably not.

Still, there are no moves to pay growers a minimum price.

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