“Crazy” that fruit pickers should get paid overtime

By Leith van Onselen

Australia’s migrant slave economy has been exposed again, with farmers labelling “outrageous” a Fair Work Commission (FWC) ruling that fruit pickers should be entitled to overtime if they work excessive hours. From The ABC:

One of Australia’s biggest fruit producers says a ruling this week by the Fair Work Commission is ‘a crazy decision’ that will send some farmers broke and force up the price of fruit and vegetables.

Starting on April 15, the Commission has ruled casuals on horticultural farms, who work more than 38 hours a week, will receive overtime, with penalties also paid for working more than 12 hours a day and night-shifts.

“We knew this was in the wind, but to now be implemented in two weeks’ time without a lot of clarity, it is going to be challenging at best,” said Gavin Scurr, the managing director of Piñata Farms…

“We will lose workers from this [ruling], as in people will stop coming to Australia because they can’t get enough work or are not allowed to work enough hours to get enough dollars under this ruling…

Vic Grozotis, an apple and avocado producer who runs a packing business at Manjimup in Western Australia, said the ongoing pressure on labour costs was forcing them to make decisions that “aren’t really in the best interest of the nation”…

To cut down his labour costs, Mr Grozotis said he was looking at robotic technology and even employing kids during the school holidays instead of adults…

Lloyd Pumpa from the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union said he supported the decision and that some of the claims being made by the farmers were a bit much.

“An increase in wages will flow on through the economy, the backpackers will spend that money here,” he said.

“We might end up paying a little bit more for our fruit and vege, but really, we’re making sure that people have an adequate living wage when they do these sorts of jobs.

Late last year, a group of academics – Joanna Howe, Alex Reilly, Stephen Clibborn, Diane van den Broek & Chris F Wright – jointly penned an article in Fairfax claiming that the exploitation of temporary migrant horticultural workers is rampant:

Australia already has more backpackers, and relies more strongly on them for horticultural work, than any country…

Unlike agricultural visas in New Zealand, Canada and the United States, and unlike Australia’s own Pacific seasonal worker program, there is no pre-approval of employers. Nor is there systematic ongoing regulation to ensure compliance with workplace laws…

Story after story after story have exposed exploitation on farms…

Several major studies have also found these workers are ripe for exploitation.

In 2016, the Fair Work Ombudsman undertook an inquiry into Australia’s backpacker visa scheme, which noted that “many backpackers are being subjected to underpayment or non-payment, unlawful deductions, sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions and other forms of exploitation”.

The Senate’s scathing report, entitled A National Disgrace: The Exploitation of Temporary Work Visa Holders, also documented the abuses of Australia’s Working Holiday Maker visas system, which was “consistently reported to suffer widespread exploitation in the Australian workforce”.

Meanwhile, the 2017 National Temporary Migrant Work Survey found that one in every seven temporary migrant fruit and vegetable pickers were paid $5 an hour or less, and a third earned $10 an hour or less.

At present, there is no labour marking testing before farmers can hire a backpacker. Current backpacker visa arrangements also require no preference whatsoever for local workers.

Improving fruit pickers’ wages and conditions makes a lot of sense. Not only would it reduce rampant exploitation, but it would encourage farms to invest in labour-saving technology, thus improving productivity.

Indeed, a key reason why developed economies are more efficient and have higher wages than their developing country counterparts is because they have invested heavily in labour-saving technologies and capital equipment.

For example, rather than having one hundred people with picks and shovels building a road, as occurs in developing countries (where labour is cheap), developed nations instead use a dozen people operating heavy machinery. The same applies to developed versus developing country agricultural production.

In short, by allowing fruit pickers’ wages to rise, by reducing rampant exploitation, farmers will be forced to invest in becoming more efficient. This is how an advanced economy is supposed to operate and is a desirable outcome.

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  1. kiwikarynMEMBER

    They can all come to NZ. Here we cant even get people to work for $23 an hour.

    Overtime rates for fruit picking is stupid – its only a few weeks of work and its well known that its long hours for a limited time. Although they can do what they do here in the vineyards, and that’s run 2 shifts a day. But then its less money for each worker, as instead of being paid for 12 hours they get paid for 8, and only get half the work.

    • “Overtime rates for fruit picking is stupid”


      But since this is Straya, they will apply penalty rates if they pick fruits on Sundays.

  2. Price of fruit and veggies is completely determined by big grocery chains who have 100% to 200% margin.
    That makes farmers prices almost irrelevant.
    In the 2015 average price of tomato in shops was $4.3 while average price paid to farmers was under $0.8.
    This slavery needs to stop not extend douwn to pickers

  3. reusachtigeMEMBER

    Oh FFS youse commies! So Malakai from Tonga gets his ten buckets done in 5 hours but Wayne from Dubbo Housing Projects gets his done in 10 earning himself extra pay and more than Malakai because he’s lazy wh1te Aussie trash! Yeah, great for business commie scum!

  4. Theresa May has a reasonable reform – allow foreign fruit pickers to come in for up to 6 months but they must cool their heels outside Britain for the next 6 months after that and then they can come in again for another 6 months.

    If you let them stay for 12 months straight, they will probably work in a more desirable job while pretending to be fruit pickers.

    No way should dole recipients be required to pick fruit.

  5. If u cant afford to pay Australian wages, dont sow so much crop and let another small farmer make a living also. Same applies for these mega retailers who moan about wages but they have demolished all the small business operators like bakers, butchers, florists. Im surprised they dont do dry cleaning and Thai massages!

  6. For many farmers, especially the smaller/organic ones, the cost of labour is the primary cost of production. Yet the output (let’s say, apples) compete on an international market where prices are set. So if we say farmers have to cough up more money for labour, then – all other things being equal – we should expect more apples in our supermarkets to be sourced from overseas (where labour costs might be as low as $2/hr).

    I’m not sure if this is what we want?

    In an era of climate change, it makes no sense to me to structurally encourage the diesel shipping of fruit from one side of the world to another. I’m sure Fair Work are simply applying the law and a general sense of what is right, however this will clearly lead to an outcome that (a) doesn’t benefit the Australian economy and (b) leads to more fossil fuel consumption.

    Robotics are a legitimate hope for agriculture, as they have the potential to drop harvesting rates across the world to a set price below the cost of human labour in any jurisdiction. Then, transport costs become more material in the overall expense mix, and we prefer apples from 100km away rather than those from 15,000km away.