Wage payment concerns rife

Making sure that workers are being paid correctly is a potential minefield for msot industries these days, with the agriculture sector and farming no exception.

This is particularly true given the nature of farming activies, where the work can be more intensive and involve longer working hours during periods such as harvest.

In 2015, a full bench of the Fair Work Commission, in a decision rejecting an application for approval of an Enterprise Agreement, called into question whether workers engaged in washing, grading, packing and dispatching produce were covered by the Horticulture Award. 

The question was raised because this work was being carried out down the road - beyond the literal farmgate. 

Fortunately, this issue has been clarified in a recent decision by the Fair Work Commission.

In its four-yearly review of the Horticulture Award, the commission determined that activities, such as washing, grading, packing and dispatching produce, that occur at physical premises located beyond the paddock where the crops were harvested, were still covered by the Award. 

The award will apply up to the point of sale to a producer or retailer, wherever that may occur.

The commission's decision has been backdated to the start of the award in 2010.

This finding will give farmers and labour hire providers certainty as to the application of the award. 

The commission also proposes to vary the award definitions of a horticulture enterprise and the horticultre industry to make clear that coverage is extended to modern horticultural business structures and operations. 

These modern businesses can often involve multiple growing sites and one or more centralised locations for washing, grading and packing activities in a purpose-built facility. 

In addition, the state parliament has passed the government's Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017

From March 1, providers of labour hire services in SA must be licensed and businsinesses must not deal with unlicensed providers or enter into avoidance arrangements. 

Operating without a license, or dealing with such an operator, can result in a $400,000 fine or three years' imprisonment and poor conduct can lead to the cancellation or suspension of a licence. 

This legislation will be overseen by the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs.

As always, it is important that all farming enterprises keep abreast of any changes to requirements for their employees, as the consequences for failing to do so can be significant. 

This article was written by Anthony Kelly and was first published in The Stock Journal on Thursday 14 December 2017. 

Practice Area: Employment , Farm Law

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