Likely changes to Horticulture Award 2020 set a concerning precedent

On 3 November 2021 the Fair Work Commission succumbed to pressure from Union Parties to vary the piecework provisions in the Horticulture Award 2020 . The court decision granted provisional approval to amend the award so that piece workers must be paid no less than the minimum hourly rates of pay in the Horticulture Award or the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). The Wine Industry Award 2020 which covers wine and winegrapes remains unchanged, however the case has set a concerning precedent.

A piece rate is where an employee gets paid ‘by the piece’ based on how much they pick, prune or pack. When applied appropriately, employees have the potential to receive lucrative rewards for their productivity. As the pay rate incentivises productivity, it can also offer significant upside benefit for the employer. Under both wine and horticulture awards various provisions relating to piecework must be complied with. For example, the employee must willingly agree to the application of a piecework rate without coercion and the average worker must have the opportunity to earn a certain percentage over the minimum hourly rate (20% more in the case of the Wine Industry Award).  Further details of how piece work rates must be applied in our sector are covered under Part 3 of the Wine Industry Award.

The decision relating to the Horticulture Award has come at a time when producers are already facing hardship relating to the cost and availability of labour. Concerns that piecework rates have been set too low and evidence of abuse and exploitation were behind the decision. All wine and winegrape producers paying piecework are strongly urged to check that they are compliant with the provisions in the relevant Award.

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