A minimum wage guarantee was introduced in Australia in April 2022 for horticultural workers who are paid piece rate . For many growers, the upcoming harvest will be the first time they’ve had to put the new rules into practice.
To meet requirements, employers have far greater record-keeping obligations, including recording the hours worked by a pieceworker in each task they do. Employers must also keep records of their workers competency in each task, which is defined as having at least 76 hours’ experience performing the task.
Workers whose earned hourly rate falls short of the minimum wage must be paid a top up for the shortfall. Further, the piece rate set for each task must allow for the average competent worker to earn the equivalent of at least 15% above the minimum hourly rate for the worker’s classification.
The administrative burden of the additional record keeping, and the complex calculations required to ensure workers are paid correctly in relation to the minimum wage and competency, are driving growers to drop piece rates altogether.
Paying hourly, however, comes with its own problems. Growers must ensure their workers’ hours fit within a long list of rules or face paying overtime. The very nature of harvest means that overtime rates are often applicable. What’s more, productive workers are incentivised by piece rate payment and growers potentially become unattractive to workers if their pay rates are not competitive.
Whether paying piece rate or by the hour, easy-to-use, robust software like ABCgrower is a must. With harvest underway at Smart Berries, farm manager Sally Jolly says “it’s made things heaps easier in the office; a life saver is how it’s been described”. ABC’s labour and farm management solution, ABCgrower, avoids double handling of information, reduces errors and risk of lost records. It is purpose built, and as founder Sharon Chapman says “it does all the complex calculations at the click of a button”. Remarkable Orchards manager Mark Sim agrees “doing the wages now is so straightforward. It works out the top ups automatically, and as there’s no more paperwork, we don’t agonise over poor handwriting. It really has made everyone happy.”
ABCgrower is horticulture-specific and offers productivity reporting, invaluable information for increasing efficiencies on the farm. With the information ABCgrower provides and incentive of fair wages and unlimited piece rate earnings for his workers, Widem Farming’s managing director Wim van Niekerk paid minimum wage even before the legislation change. Mr van Niekerk says “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.”
As well as providing tools for worker management, ABCgrower has other benefits such as traceability, block cost information, and inventory/bin management, all in one system. Koala Cherries Chris Nealon says “time is very critical in a cherry harvest. With the ABC integration we have data at our fingertips. Our marketing team, our production team, in fact everyone can all see the information they need quickly and easily. It’s made us hugely more efficient”.
The ongoing inspections by the Fair Work Ombudsman, which have already seen fines issued, indicates there’s no room for non-compliance on the minimum wage legislation. The produce isn’t going to wait to be picked while growers sort out a solution, and nor is the FWO. ABC Software offers an obligation-free customised demonstration and a free 45-day trial with training. Growers who haven’t investigated a software solution should contact ABC today.