Yesterday the Fair Work Commission handed down a decision to guarantee all workers will take home at least the minimum wage for hours worked.<sup>1</sup> The Commission found that there was “widespread non-compliance” with the piece-rate provisions of the Horticulture Award, leading to “significant underpayment of piece-workers”.
For decades, unscrupulous employers and labour hire providers have set artificially low piece-rates to drive down wages. A joint report from the Migrant Workers Centre and Unions NSW showed that 78% of surveyed farm-workers were being paid less than the minimum wage. In some cases they earned as little as $9 a day.<sup>2</sup>
The Federal Government should support this decision and ensure that it takes the necessary steps in reforming our migration system to remove the remaining barriers migrant workers face in reporting industrial wrong-doing on Australian farms.
Congratulations to the farm workers who campaigned together for these reforms through the Australian Workers Union and the United Workers Union.
Quotes Attributable to Matt Kunkel, CEO Migrant Workers Centre
“For too long, the largely migrant workforce on farms have toiled for insufferably low wages under an unfair piece rates system. These changes are an important step to improving the lives of those working on Australian farms.
“Wages on Australian farms remain low and there is evidence of widespread non-compliance with other industrial provisions. This decision is a great win for farm-workers, the Federal Government must now act on the countless reports of rights breaches in the sector.
“Migrant farm-workers face precarity at the intersection of both industrial and migration law. The Federal Government should introduce whistle-blower protections which would allow migrant farm-workers to report industrial wrong-doing without the threat of deportation."
Quotes Attributable to Mark Morey, Secretary Unions NSW
“The federal parliament can solidify this excellent decision of the Fair Work Commission with legislation. This would entrench protection and improve awareness. Any member of parliament who is opposed to such a move needs to explain why it’s okay to rip off vulnerable migrants.
“Migrant agriculture workers are among the most exploited people in Australia. We have heard harrowing stories of people scavenging food from bins to survive, and working for several dollars an hour. To allow this to continue in Australia is unfathomable."
1 Summary of FWC Decision
2 “Working for $9 a Day” report into wage theft and human rights abuses on farms.
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