Fruit growers in Tasmania will appeal a Fair Work Commission decision to award a minimum wage to pickers, whatever they end up picking.

Key points:

  • Tasmanian fruit pickers are currently paid by piece rate
  • A Fair Work Commission decision last week will award workers a minimum hourly rate of $25.41.
  • The state’s leading industry group has appealed the ruling

Across the country, orchard and other farm workers are paid a piece rate — according to the amount of produce they harvest — so the more fruit or vegetables harvested, the more a worker is paid.

Last week’s ruling will see pickers paid a guaranteed minimum casual rate of $25.41 per hour, a move hailed by unions as one of the most significant industrial decision of modern times.

Huon Valley fruit grower Andrew Griggs said many farmers were exasperated with the decision.

man and woman at a conveyor belt packing apples

Fruit grower Andrew Griggs and a staff member packing apples (ABC Rural: Fiona Breen)

“We think The Fair Work Commission should address non–compliance by prosecuting offenders, not by encumbering most compliant farmers … with this unworkable ruling,” Mr Griggs said.

“The vast majority of farmers have absolutely no problem paying people a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

Many farmers are still trying to get their heads around the ruling, and many remain uncertain about the timing of implementation.

“I guess we are still hoping that The Fair Work Commission may even be willing to go back to the drawing board to sit down with farmers and employees to come up with a more workable arrangement,” Mr Griggs said.

Peak industry body Fruit Growers Tasmania has held three workshops to date with growers across the state, and the feedback has shown orchardists are not happy.

City folk making decisions about farming

“It’s one thing to decide from afar … but these are the people that must apply it in the farm or the orchard,” Fruit Growers Tasmania’s, Peter Cornish said.

Tasmanian fruit growers argue that the minimum wage ruling will stop a particular cohort from getting jobs in the fruit- and vegetable-picking industry.

“These are people — through no fault of their own — are just less productive at work and it may be due to age, health, or mental or physical disabilities,” Mr Griggs said.

Fruit growers have said that with the new ruling they will not be able to employ people who they consider are too slow.

“They simply won’t be able to afford to,” Mr Cornish said.

Peter Cornish standing in an orchard row.

Fruit Growers Tasmania CEO Peter Cornish standing in an orchard row.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Talks between fruit growers and state government robust

A headshot of Guy Barnett.

Mr Barnett has washed his hands of the matter. (ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

Growers have called on the state government to support them with their appeal, but so far have been met with a disappointing response.

Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister, Guy Barnett said he is not getting involved.

“We have regular ongoing meetings with growers … I’ve had feedback on this and they are absolutely entitled to put forward their view,” Mr Barnett said.

“We’ve decided not to engage in the process. Obviously it’s a fair an independent objective assessment that’s undertaken by The Fair Work Commission.”

Fruit Growers Tasmania have described its meetings with the Minister as robust.

“We have a different point of view about what the position the Tasmanian Government could take,” Mr Cornish said.

Whatever happens with the appeal, Fruit Growers Tasmania has hoped any change to the system happens outside the harvesting period.

“It would be a mess to try to do it in the peak of our season,” Mr Cornish said.

Fruit Growers Tasmania will lodge its appeal before the November 26 cut-off.

There is a bunch of cherries in a persons hand

Tasmanian cherries(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Tasmanian fruit growers to challenge minimum rate for pickers
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