5 November 2021

Dr Joanna Howe: “Farm workers in Australia have toiled for as little as $1 an hour. Or they can slave away all day filling a bucket with oranges for $5 an hour, so it amounts to just $40 in wages. Until now. On Thursday, in a landmark decision, the Fair Work Commission has ruled that farm workers can no longer be paid below the hourly minimum wage through the use of piece rates. This is a foundational step to ending the endemic exploitation of migrant farmworkers. … In my research we encountered workers effectively being paid $1 an hour on piece rates and more generally we found piece-rate workers earned less than $15 an hour, more than $5 below the legal minimum hourly rate for a 38-hour week. This was often because workers bore the cost for things that were beyond their control. For example, if the weather was bad and the fruit was damaged, or it was the end of the season and there was less fruit on the trees. Or it was often the case that workers couldn’t get up to the unrealistically high picking speed demanded by the farmer. … This decision will force some growers to face an uncomfortable reality. Some will have to change their business model and raise their rates to become compliant if they want to stay in business. Others will calculate the risk of being detected and decide to ignore this decision and keep paying workers well below the minimum wage. So although this decision is a step in the right direction, it needs to be accompanied by further reform to ensure the horticulture industry is not built upon a norm of non-compliance with labour standards.”

Related [$]: “Australia’s already-stalled seasonal-worker program is under challenge from a proposed class action by Pacific Island workers against labour hire companies accused of exploitation and massive wage theft… The Australian has sighted dozens of pay slips showing some South Sea islanders brought to Australia as farm workers on the promise of wages of $900 a week are left with less than $300 a week to pay for basic items such as food after excessive deductions.”