Is Piece Work Really Dead?

Piece rate payment has long been a popular form of remuneration in horticulture. A piece worker’s pay is based on the quantity they pick, prune or pack. Piece workers have the potential to earn much more than they would on an hourly wage. It’s worth every cent to the growers and packers whose livelihood depends on getting produce picked and packed as quickly as possible, over what is often a short harvest period.

How the Horticulture Minimum Wage Has Changed Things

Such was the reaction to the introduction of a horticulture minimum wage guarantee for pieceworkers in Australia in 2022, many believe it is no longer legal to pay piece rates in Australia. The calculations are complicated and the record-keeping requirements considerable, but so long as it is in compliance with the Horticulture Award, it is most definitely still legal.

A minimum wage guarantee for piece work has been required across the ditch in New Zealand for some time, and piece rate payment remains widely used in horticulture. Perhaps Kiwis are more used to it, after all New Zealand was the first country to implement a national minimum wage. ABC Software is headquartered in New Zealand, and we already had tools to accommodate the minimum wage guarantee locally. That’s not to say there weren’t a few long days ensuring we put together a watertight solution to ensure our Aussie friends could meet their obligations!

Complying with the Horticulture Award

So, piece rates are legal, but are they dead? Many growers and packers threw them out believing the cost of minimum wage top up payments and compliance considerations would make them unviable. Good horticulture-specific software such as ABCgrower is essential to make it work. It does the hard yards for you and delivers accurate pay information and audit-ready reproducible reports. Even those that made the rules (I’m looking at you FWO!) recommend using software and not trying to go it alone. 

The Benefits of ABCgrower

One of our growers stuck with piece rates after the introduction of the horticulture minimum wage guarantee, in large part because of having ABCgrower with its tools to manage piece rates already on hand. Such is the strength of belief in the death of these rates in the industry they decided to shift to hourly wages for the second harvest since the legislation changes. Both payment mechanisms fall under the Horticulture Award, and both have their pros and cons. 

With hourly wages comes overtime liability (ABCgrower takes care of these calculations too!). What this grower was left with was a wage bill considerably higher for the harvest paid on hourly rates, than the harvest paid on piece rates. This was due primarily to the overtime bill greatly outweighing the top up bill, as well as the efficiency advantages this form of payment can bring. They are now firmly in favour of the advantages of piece rate! 

Increase Your Efficiency Today

With labour contributing in the region of 70 percent of harvest cost, piece work definitely shouldn’t be thrown out because of the Horticulture Award changes. Piece rates are a tool in an industry where efficiency has become king. Piece work isn’t dead. It’s very much alive and well. 

Find out how ABCgrower can help your business effortlessly comply with the Horticulture Award pay rates in 2024. For more information on any of our software, contact us today and see the difference these programs can make for your business.

“Using ABCgrower for us has benefitted the business in the sense that we can see where our costs are.”
Johnny Milmine, General Manager
Berry Farms NZ

Information Automation to grow your knowledge and grow your business

ABC Software founder Sharon Chapman spoke on Information Automation at Hort Connections 2023; Australia and New Zealand’s largest horticulture conference and trade show.

Learn what information automation is – it might be a lot simpler than you think!  Sharon considers the attitudes towards, and use of, digital technology in horticulture.  She discusses how and what information can be captured on a farm and the opportunities to enhance productivity from the insights this data delivers.

Information affords knowledge, which affords efficiencies, which affords growth.

“Using ABCgrower for us has benefitted the business in the sense that we can see where our costs are.”
Johnny Milmine, General Manager
Berry Farms NZ

Pay pruning per piece

Pay pruning per piece

With the FWO changes to the Horticulture Award many growers have put piece rates in the too hard basket, but there are still many advantages so long as you have the right tools for the job. Purpose built software will take care of the complex calculations required under the Award, as well as providing traceability to who has pruned what, not to mention keeping on top of your budgets. You can’t control the weather, but labour costs blow outs are a nasty surprise you can avoid.

ABC Software’s labour management software, ABCgrower, comes inclusive with a module created specifically for collecting non-harvest activities by piece. The Worker Allocation module allows you to assign one or more workers to a row and record the number of trees or vines each worker has pruned. You have visibility to who is where, what has been done, and what is left to do, at all times. When you perform quality checks you know who pruned the tree/vine.

Designed for use on the ABCgrower App, which works without an internet connection, means you can capture information anywhere on the farm without concern about being in internet range. Information is uploaded to the website when a data connection is available and synchronised across all devices.

Information-rich records give visibility to workers productivity, and if you measure, you can manage. See how your workers are performing, make decisions in real-time, and keep on top of your labour costs. Then use this season’s data to better plan for next year. Smart Berries Australia Agronomist and Assistant Farm Manager Sally Jolly says “We got real time data that very quickly showed us how fast people were working. It made day-to-day forecasting much, much easier.”

With ABCgrower’s highly flexible system you can pay piece rate or pay hourly, or record by piece and convert to an hourly payment with an optional bonus incentive. You do it your way while ABC does the calculations. Managing Director of Widem Farming Wim van Niekirk choses ABCgrower to help pay piece rate saying “You can show the workers exactly what they’ve done, how much they’ve earned, what their friends have done, and they realise they got so close to making extra money. The productivity the day after goes through the roof.”

ABCgrower also offers tools for collecting harvest information, again collecting by piece means a wealth of information; and you can assess the productivity of your workers and your plants. As well as bin/container inventory management with traceability to who picked what. Up-to-date productivity and block cost reports are always on hand at the click of a button.

Another valuable tool in ABC’s shed is their digital spray diary, ABCspray, which can be used in conjunction with ABCgrower or stand-alone. It supports spraying, fertiliser applications and fertigation. Compliance ready reporting is always available and again, ABC takes care of the calculations – so you can get growing.

The FWO rule changes have made paying piece rates for pruning challenging for growers, but the challenges can be taken out of your hands. Good software not only does the hard work but affords operational efficiencies which means direct returns to your bottom line.

Aussie’s on notice: Do the right thing, or else…

Aussie’s on notice: Do the right thing, or else…

18 months into their agriculture strategy, the Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman continues to investigate businesses for non-compliance. To date inspectors have issued 64 Infringement Notices for pay slip and record-keeping breaches, with fines totalling over $176,000. 55 of the notices were issued to labour hire companies with the remaining nine to growers. The Government is now considering national labour hire regulation.

It’s positive that compliance is higher where growers employ their staff directly, however where they do engage labour hire companies, they’re not out of the firing line. Growers must protect themselves by ensuring their labour hire companies are also compliant. “It’s a red flag if workers can’t identify their employer and are paid cash-in-hand, without pay slips, by individuals seemingly unrelated to the apparent employing entity. This is prevalent in multi-level supply chains where we consistently find wrongdoing.” says Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker. 110 investigations are ongoing, many of these related to the pieceworkers’ minimum wage guarantee. 

Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock voices the concerns in his sector where labour costs are skyrocketing. This is due to the cost of recruiting inexperienced workers, minimum wage top up payments and administration costs. He notes “These rising costs would be bearable if there was a corresponding increase in productivity”. Increases in productivity are possible, but to achieve this growers must consider information automation. With visibility to real-time productivity growers can take action in actively managing their workers. Users of ABCgrower, ABC Software’s labour management software, report significant gains in efficiencies and cost savings.

In fact, the calculations and record-keeping requirements have become such that it’s not viable to manage without purpose-built tools. Horticulture-specific software does minimum wage calculations, provides the tools for competency compliance and allows growers to accurately set piece rates. Uptake of software is on the increase, as Ms Parker notes “During our inspections we’ve had growers show us their sophisticated software that tracks productivity and ensures Horticulture Award compliance.”

Being an ethical and responsible employer is not just the right thing to do, Ms Parker’s message is clear “With unannounced hot spot inspections continuing this year and next, growers and labour hire entities are on notice. They may get a visit from Fair Work Inspectors very soon – and we will take enforcement action where appropriate.” Contact ABC Software to see how labour management software can protect against FWO non-compliance and help increase productivity.

Decisions made simple with ABC

Sharon Chapman, founder and managing director of ABC Software, discusses the evolution of the New Zealand-headquartered company, which has a growing footprint in the Australian market.

By Matthew Jones

Can you begin by giving us a quick overview of the past 12 months for your company, ABC Software.  Have you seen increased demand for your specialised software packages, and if so, what do you attribute this to?

There has definitely been an uptick in enquiries and sales.  Given the escalating cost of labour and compliance, more growers are looking for digital solutions.  ABC’s software packages are focused on giving decision making tools for operational insights, which is increasingly important given the labour and regulatory climate.  Our growing reputation for providing quality, fit-for-purpose software, underpinned by really good support, is attracting new business.

You’ve recently launched some updates to your ABCgrower platform, including live productivity reporting and a new Business Intelligence API module.  Can you tell us about these updates and the benefits they’re delivering to your customers?

To deliver on legislation changes introduced by Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) in April, we had to make enhancements.  Catering for minimum wage calculations and top up payments was simple, as we have this legislation in New Zealand and our software already complied.

The tricky area was competency and the additional payment that should be made to competent, averagely productive pieceworkers.  To do this we introduced the ability to record what we call intra-day times, that is the start and end time for a task.  This allows us to show live productivity as the grower now has both quantity and duration.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, not exactly.  It took some effort and fine tuning to cater for various scenarios like individual workers moving between tasks or teams moving collectively from one task to the next.  It needed to be easy to collect the data, and we worked hard at making it as simple as we could.  We have great clients who give us really good feedback on what works and what doesn’t.

We have done a lot of work to give comprehensive block cost information within ABCgrower.  Some of our clients want to take information from ABCgrower and combine it with information from other systems.  This is where the Business Intelligence API comes into its own.  Our clients can bring the ABCgrower data into tools like Microsoft Power BI, along with other data, to create holistic reporting.

You’ve also made updates to your ABCspray and ABCpacker solutions.  Can you tell us about these?

We continue to finesse ABCspray, and have now included most of the feedback from our New Zealand and Australian clients.  It’s reporting capabilities confirm with the various compliance and certification agencies, such as GlobalGAP.  Our roadmap is to have offline capability to record the actual sprays used.

Regarding our packhouse software, ABCpacker, this is currently installed on-premise at the packhouse, as opposed to in the cloud. We have started developing a cloud-based solution that can run on-premise for those packhouse without internet access, and in the cloud for those that do.  ABCpacker not only takes care of the packing and sales but has comprehensive packing inventory and grower payment modules as well.

Have these advances helped ABC Software attract new clients or extend its solutions to new categories?

As our reputation grows, so do opportunities to work with clients in new categories.  We have clients across apples, avocados, berries, cherries, citrus, grapes, summerfruit, mangoes and more.

We’re recently begun working with a mushroom farm and are talking with onion and potato growers.  We have built flexibility into our solutions to deliver fit-for-purpose software to cater for the variations in business processes and styles.

While you’re a New Zealand-headquartered company, you have a strong presence in the Australian market.  How is your business developing in Australia?

Australia is a much larger market and has significant needs with the FWO changes.  It becomes harder to use pen, paper and spreadsheets and stay compliant with the latest legislation.  It is often challenging for the grower to adopt new processes such as software.  Growers are traditionally time poor, so moving to digital automation is not usually in growers’ wheelhouse, and implementation takes effort before the rewards are evident.  To this end, we work diligently with the grower through the on-boarding process.  We have very responsive support and are only a phone call away with assistance and guidance when required.

A lot of effort has been put into making ABCgrower a great tool to meet the FWO rules and the Australian Horticulture Award in respect of worker’s time and pieces.  We calculate top ups for minimum wage, show competency and productivity for the 15 percent uplift for the averagely productive, competent worker.  ABCgrower can track hours for overtime payments, such as a causal worker exceeding 304 hours over eight weeks.  It can be used by the grower to see their costs in real-time, and not wait for a payroll to be completed, by which time it is too late to make operational decisions.

Jenkins Group, which specialise in end-to-end packaging solutions for the fresh produce industry, recently invested in your company.  Can you tell us about the deal and how it will drive new innovation at ABC Software?

The Jenkins Group is known by many in Australia as J-Tech Systems.  In addition to packaging, they are very active in the automation space with the award winning Aporo, an automated apple packer.

Jenkins saw ABC as having innovative software also operating in the horticulture industry.  The relationship is still new, and discussions are current on how to best digitise and automate solutions for the client base to bring efficiencies and value for all.  However, with like-minded values, the Jenkins Group is a great company to be aligned with, and ABC is enjoying the new relationship.

Published in Produce Plus Summer 2022 Issue 47

Changes to the Australian Horticulture Award – in practice

Changes to the Australian Horticulture Award – in practice 

The Fair Work Ombudsman continues to inspect businesses and issue infringement notices for non-compliance regarding the minimum wage guarantee introduced in Australia in April of this year. Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said employers were expected to apply the rules correctly, “Record-keeping is the bedrock of compliance. Employers who fail to meet these obligations are more likely to be underpaying, whether intentionally or not.”

In the first quarter of 2022 the team at ABC Software developed tools to accommodate the legislation changes. We have expanded and refined this functionality working with our clients through the year and into their harvest.

The reality is the record-keeping requirements are considerable and horticulture-specific software is key in meeting obligations. “We were pleased to see that some farmers have used technology to make it easier to pay their workers correctly under the award changes. We commend those who do the right thing and hope other farmers are encouraged by these practical methods to ensure compliance,” Ms Parker said.

We continue to develop our products and are currently reconfiguring the ABCgrower App to allow in-field editing of worker time records, in conjunction with settings allowing you to determine to what level time records must be collected. We remain true to our ethos of offering flexibility and providing tools, not rules, to help you meet your obligations. Talk to us to understand your options and gain insight into how growers are dealing with the legislation changes.

Taking your spray diary online

agrichemical record keeping

Taking your spray diary online

The old adage of “it’s not broke, don’t fix it” is out-of-date in today’s landscape where every opportunity for automation and increased efficiency should be explored. Ditching the paper in favour of an electronic spray diary is one such opportunity.

By taking your spray diary online you get accurate and timely information, calculations done for you, and no missing information or transcription errors from double entry or illegible handwriting! Enter your information once only and use it everywhere.

With ABCspray you can enter or access data anywhere on any device with an internet connection. ABC Software’s founder Sharon Chapman says “Your information is stored securely in the Cloud so there is no need to worry about backups or lost records. Having records available at the click of a button means no more searching for paper records.” Reports are reproducible at any time.

ABCspray holds sprayer calibration settings, water rates and application rates. Whether you accept your default rates, or make changes on the fly, the calculations are done for you. Flexible yet accurate software means you can worker smarter, not harder.

Good software will allow you to record all information required for compliance and this is underpinned by the information security provided by user access permissions, secure data storage and greater transparency. ABCspray supports you to meet your compliance requirements while remaining flexible. As Ms Chapman says, “we provide you the tools, you choose what information to record, according to your business requirements.”

A Consumables Management module is included with ABCspray at no extra cost. Chemical usage is recorded automatically, and you can track your chemicals and any other stock item by quantity and location. Multiple storage locations are supported, and you can carry out stocktakes online.

ABCspray sits within ABC’s worker management software, ABCgrower, and when used together it can automatically create timesheet records for your spray operators, and agrichemical costs are included in block cost reporting. “It’s made things heaps easier in the office; a life saver is how it’s been described” says Smart Berries farm manager Sally Jolly. There is no need to enter data into different systems, it increases reliability, and you can stay in one system to get information to make informed decisions. It also means having a relationship with one company.

ABC have a reputation for great customer service, summed up by Fresh Produce Group support analyst Megan Rogers, “Your team is such a pleasure to work with”. While paper might seem the cheap option, with the ease of use, time saving and record-keeping efficiency that software affords, ABCspray will save you money.

Who’s your best picker? Who’s thinned the most trees?

Who’s your worst picker? Who’s thinned the most trees?

Did you know you have visibility to your team’s productivity on the ABCgrower App? Always up-to-date, see the quantities being achieved and who your best and poorest performers are.  Use this information to make on-the-spot decisions.  

Available for any piece rate activity where Intra-Day times are collected – harvest, thinning, pruning and more!  

How to see Live Productivity on the ABCgrower App

  1. Tap Live Productivity on the main menu.
  2. Tap Activity Type and choose from the list. You will be able to select any piece rate activity for which records have been entered today.
  3. You can filter by Site and Block/Variety if you wish.
  4. Tap Search to view by Worker.  You will see the workers, their quantity and quantity per hour.
  5. Rotate into landscape mode to also see start time, last record time and total activity time.
  6. You can tap any column header to sort by that column. Tap again to reverse the sort order.
  7. You can also see the results by Work Crew. Turn on Show by Work Crew toggle before tapping Search.
  8. With the device in portrait mode the results show the work crew, number of workers, and quantity per hour.  Rotate into landscape mode to also see total activity time.
  • The results show the information recorded on your device. To see information from other devices as well, go to Live Productivity on ABCgrower Web.

Live Productivity on ABCgrower Web

You can also view Live Productivity on ABCgrower Web.  The search filters and reporting is the same as for ABCgrower App, however the results are a combination of information uploaded from all devices as well as information entered directly into ABCgrower Web.  Live Productivity is found under the Reports menu.

The existing Productivity report remains available.  Use this report to search a particular date range and for additional options.

Mistakes in Intra-Day Records?

Missing records?

I explained a while back about how information collected on the ABCgrower mobile App is passed through staging tables when it is uploaded to the website.  The records are checked for errors before they are passed to the relevant data tables.  If any records are in error the uploaded batch is held in the staging table.  Examples include double scanning of a unique bin number and scanning a worker who has been marked inactive. 

What’s new?

We’ve moved the staging tables out of the various menus into their own Mobile App menu.  The staging tables you can see depends on the modules your organisation uses and your user permissions.

The red notification icon shows when there are records being held in error, with the number on the notification telling you how many records there are.

What do I do with them?

Records are automatically processed every few minutes.  It’s possible for records to be in the staging tables but not in error if they’ve just been uploaded but not yet processed.  In this case you can click [Re-process] to push them through if you like.

If there are records in error there will be a message to tell you what’s wrong.  You can delete a record by clicking the adjacent rubbish bin icon.  Then you can click [Re-process] to push any remaining records through (or wait for them to auto-process).  Remember to re-enter the corrected record via the the appropriate page (e.g. Activity > Worker Activity) if necessary.

24-hour Time

3pm or 1500 hours?

You can now choose a 12-hour or 24-hour time format on the ABCgrower App.

App Setting

The 12-hour format is set by default.  Enable the 24-hour format in the App Settings – this is a one-off step.

Tap the cog icon on the right of the blue main Menu banner. 

Turn on the Enter 24 hour time toggle.

Entering worker time on an Android device

The 24-clock shows two dials for setting the hours.  Tap the desired time on the clock face, or drag the hand around the inner or outer dial to the desired time.  

Alternatively, tap the keyboard icon and enter a time using the keyboard.

The images show the 24-hour format with hours selection on the left and minutes selection on the right.

Entering worker time on an Apple device

Use the dial picker.  The 12-hour format has hours one  to 12 and an am and pm option, the 24-hour format has hours one to 24.