Union push for minimum fruit picking rates

Georgie MooreAAP
The Australian Workers Union is calling for the minimum wage for fruit pickers.
The Australian Workers Union is calling for the minimum wage for fruit pickers. Credit: AAP

A major union will ask the Fair Work Commission to guarantee fruit pickers earn minimum wage.

The Australian Workers’ Union will on Tuesday push to ensure horticulture workers take home minimum casual pay of $25.41 an hour.

At the moment, farms are not required to pay the minimum award rate.

Instead, many workers are renumerated based on the amount of fruit picked or vegetables harvested.

The union is happy with farm owners being able to keep piecework arrangements, but wants the award rate set as a floor.

“There is no reason we should accept that fruit and vegetable picking exists in an industrial no-man’s land outside Australia’s norms and standards,” national secretary Daniel Walton said.

Sophie Blake, from the UK, worked on an almond farm in NSW for both hourly and piecework rates.

She went from earning about $27 an hour during harvest in 2019 to about 15 cents per tree for pruning and cleaning up afterwards.

The latter situation made it hard to cover rent, food and save money.

“It just feels a bit like slave labour because you definitely know you’re worth more than that,” she told AAP.

After her experience, Ms Blake refused to labour for piecework rates.

She believed paying minimum wage would encourage Australians to do the job to make up for the shortfall of migrant workers.

The National Farmers’ Federation said piecework rates incentivised and awarded productivity.

Chief executive Tony Mahar was concerned introducing a minimum floor price would further shrink the poor of suitable workers.