Potatoes South Australia continues to collaborate with representative state and national associations and bodies in challenging a move by the Unions to separate the final processing (washing/packing) of horticultural product from the Horticulture Award and place all activities under a different Award with much higher labour rates. 

We believe that this represents an attack on Primary Producers and Value Chain Service Providers and will have serious consequences for the viability of many businesses.  The Awards are currently under review and an application to the Fair Work Commission to vary the coverage clause of the Horticulture Award 2010 is now underway. 

A special industry meeting was convened by the Association, HortEx Alliance and Australian Industry Group (AiG) on the Northern Adelaide Plains on 16 February 2016 to alert stakeholders to their rights under increased Union activity, the ramifications of the impost of different Awards and the desired changes to the Horticulture Award.

Guest speaker was Mr Michael Mead, IR specialist and Head of Workplace Relations AiG. Mr Mead informed the meeting that the Fair Work Commission needed to have clear evidence of actual working conditions and arrangements in making any decision on claims. He stressed the need to have evidence of any adverse impact on businesses arising from changes being proposed by the unions.

The Union Claims are as follows: 

The Unions (ACTU, NUW, AWU) have put in a claim to have the Horticulture Award changed.   The main proposed changes are:

  • Casual Conversion provisions: a casual employee has an absolute right to convert to permanent employment after 6 months. The employer would have no right to keep the employee on a casual basis. 

This means your casual employees have a right to go permanent after 6 months. 

  • Minimum engagement periods for casual and part-time employees: the Unions want to introduce a minimum of 4 hours for each shift. 

This means that you cannot provide a casual or permanent employee with a shift less than 4 hours. If you do, you will need to pay them for the 4 hours regardless. 

  • Prohibition on increasing the number of casual or part-time employees: the Unions want to stop an employer from employing more casual or part-time employees without allowing the existing employees to increase their hours. 

This means that you cannot employ any new employees unless you have offered extra hours to your current staff.

  • Entitlement of casual employees to overtime rates: they receive the same as permanent employees. 

This means overtime will be paid to casuals: 

  • Overtime Paid for ordinary hours worked over 152 hours in a four week period
  • Overtime Paid for hours worked outside of span of ordinary hours 6.00am – 6.00pm Monday to Friday
  • Overtime paid for hours worked greater than 8 hours in a day
  • Double time paid on a Sunday

Primary producers at the meeting expressed concerns that there would be a significant impact on wages and employment if the above changes were endorsed. Mr Mead told the meeting that this could only be challenged by producing evidence of the likely impact on wages growth and employment directly from industry.

A survey was emailed to all stakeholders and the results have accompanied AiG’s submission to the Fair Work Commission. Statements of evidence to support the submission (which cannot be tested under cross-examination) were also requested.