News & ResourcesKeep up to date with the latest news and standards
Managing overseas workers
September 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
Many growers rely on overseas workers to fill seasonal labour requirements all around Australia. Many of these overseas workers take advantage of this need by funding their backpacking adventures and getting their ‘88’ days to extend their stay in Australia.
While overseas works only account for 6% of the Australian workforce, they make up 20% of all formal Fair Work disputes. They are also overrepresented in serious cases of exploitation, bonded labour and modern slavery. These workers are often more vulnerable to exploitation due to language barriers, visa status and lack of understanding around workplace rights.
Despite the challenges, correctly managing your overseas workers can result in less injuries, less turnover, happy workers and higher productivity! Fair Farms promotes some policies, procedures and practices that can foster a productive and fruitful relationship with your workers.
Can they work for you?
One of the most important aspects of managing overseas workers is understanding their right to work. Many overseas workers are under visas, which have a variety of restrictions. For example, backpackers under the 417 or 462 visa can only work with one employer for 12 months when working in plant and animal cultivation.
Employers have requirements to ensure every worker on site has the right to work, including workers provided through a Labour Hire Provider. Therefore, it is important you use the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) system to check every worker’s status. It may be useful to keep a calendar of visa expiry dates, and communicate this regularly to staff who create rosters.
Workers’ visa statuses may change at any time, so it is a good idea to check VEVO on a regular basis, not just when they start work.
English is often the second language of overseas workers, so it is important to communicate clearly to ensure workers are kept safe and productive. Some ways to ensure workers understand messages may include:
- Buddy workers up with others who speak the same language
- Use pictures and diagrams
- Australians are renowned for being difficult to understand, so try and talk slowly
- Check if workers understand, don’t just assume!
- Download free resources from the Fair Work Ombudsman website in language your workers often speak
Understand your obligations
Overseas workers are entitled to the same pay and benefits as Australian citizens, including Award pay rates, casual loading, superannuation and relevant rights under the National Employment Standard (NES). If you operate under the Seasonal Workers Programme or Pacific Labour Scheme, you will have additional obligations to your workers.
Remember, you may need to be registered with the ATO as an employer of overseas workers and tax those workers in accordance with their visa requirements. For example, 417 and 462 backpacker visa holders must be taxed a flat rate of 15%.
August 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News Magazine
An induction is a process of introducing workers to their job and to the business. When workers fully understand their role, surroundings and relations to co-workers, they will have all the information necessary to perform their job confidently, effectively and safely.
The Fair Farms Standard promotes that businesses have a well thought out and documented induction procedure. Businesses need to induct workers they hire directly as well as workers hired through a Labour Hire Provider.
What to include in an induction procedure
Every business is different, and therefore each induction process will cover different areas. However, at a minimum the induction procedure should cover:
- Workplace information, such as the location of break rooms and toilets
- Worker role, such as job descriptions and general duties
- Employment terms and conditions, including probations and piecework arrangements (where relevant)
- Worker rights and entitlements, including a copy of the Fair Work Information Statement and the Fair Work My Employment Checklist
- Work health and safety risks, requirements, policies and procedures
- Other workplace policies and procedures
- The reporting structure of the business
- Process for handling of disputes and grievances
When deciding what other topics to cover in your induction process, think about the unique features that contribute to your business values (e.g. always sending out deliveries on time) and workplace culture (e.g. having morning tea together weekly).
Inducting overseas workers
It is important to consider that workers from overseas may have limited English skills and experience in horticulture. When designing your induction process, keep these issues in mind and create a procedure for communicating induction information to those workers. This may include photos and diagrams, physically showing and demonstrating topics or teaming new workers up with experienced employees who speak the same language.
Documenting the process
Use a checklist to ensure every aspect is covered. Ensure workers sign the checklist to acknowledge they have
received an induction and understand the information they were given. Make sure to keep the signed checklist with the rest of their employee records.
Some employers make the mistake of not paying workers for the time spent on inductions. However, being inducted is a mandatory work activity, and therefore, workers are entitled to their normal rate of pay.
These and other important topics are covered in the Fair Farms Standard, which outlines the accepted principles of fair and ethical employment in horticulture.
Managing young workers
June 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News Magazine
A rite of passage for many Australian teenagers is their first part-time or casual job. These jobs have numerous benefits: they develop skills and experience, prepare them to be productive members of society and increase their self-esteem and resilience.
Despite these benefits, workers under the age of 18 are particularly vulnerable in the workplace. In fact, the agriculture industry has the highest rate of serious injuries for young workers. This may be because they are:
- Still developing their skills
- Lacking experience to judge risk
- Hesitant to ask questions or report issues
- Enthusiastic to make a good impression
So how do you effectively manage young workers to ensure they learn valuable skills and stay safe? Fair Farms promotes some keys processes and behaviours to ensure work does not interfere with minors’ education, health, development or safety.
Fair Farms advocates that no child under the age of 13 should be employed. Children are at high risk of injuries,
especially on farms. You should check the ages of all workers and keep a register as evidence of this.
Each State and Territory has their own youth employment laws that cover when minors can start work, and any restrictions on what hours they can work. At a minimum, work should never interfere with minors attending school. You can find more information here: www.fairwork.gov.au/find-helpfor/young-workers-and-students/what-age-can-i-start-work
Health and safety
You should consider the age and skills of young workers, to make sure the tasks and responsibilities they undertake are appropriate. In considering this, workers under the age of 18 should not:
- Work with or around harmful chemicals
- Use or operate machinery
- Work without supervision
- Work in very loud environments
Make sure you also pay special attention to how long minors work for, when they work and any additional or tailored training they might need around safe work practices.
Teenagers’ minds are still developing, so you should be careful and make sure the work environment is appropriate. This includes avoiding exposure to:
- Vulgar language
- Non-prescription drugs
- Images or conversation of a sexual nature
The key to making sure all of these procedures work is to create and foster a culture of awareness and consideration.
Talk to other workers when you employ minors and discuss the special considerations everyone has to ensure a safe and productive workplace. These and other important topics are covered in the Fair Farms Standard, which sets out the accepted principles of fair and ethical employment in horticulture.
Managing performance in your workplace
May 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News Magazine
Workers are often considered the biggest cost to a grower, but you can also look at them as your biggest asset. This is why the Fair Farms Standard advocates for businesses to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that:
- Workers understand their performance and behavioural requirements.
- Poor performance and behavioural issues are managed appropriately.
Having effective policies and procedures in place will maximise your worker performance and efficiency, which adds directly to your bottom line.
So how to do you manage performance? Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach, as we all know what works for full-time farm hands might not necessarily work very well for a seasonal backpacker or short-term picker sent by a labour hire contractor. However, applying the following principles will make a notable difference:
Step One – Plan
Before you create a performance management policy, look at your business goals for the year ahead and think about what you need out of your workforce to meet your goals. Then, you can identify what good performance and poor performance looks like in your business. Remember to consider how you should manage performance for the different types of workers you have (for example ongoing chats with short term backpackers, planned meetings at the end of season with full-time and regular casuals, or regular one-to-one sessions with your key managers and supervisory staff).
Step Two – Document
Now that you have an understanding of your business goals, your workforce and their needs for performance management, you can put it all into a policy document. The policy should outline what you expect of your workers, how you’re going to manage their performance and the process of managing poor performance.
Step Three – Implement
To reap the benefits of the performance management process, the most important step is to implement the policy. To ensue you get the most out of your workers performance:
- Include the policy in your induction process.
- Have regular conversations with your workers about their performance, provide feedback, both when they underperform and when they’re doing a great job.
- Offer support. If you have identified an issue, discuss with the worker how you can help them improve.
It is important to remember that performance management is a two-way process. Giving workers a voice will help them stay engaged and perform to the best of their ability.
Fair Farms will offer tailored training modules to growers for performance management and other subjects covered by the Fair Farms Standard.
Woolworths new requirements in relation to labour hire
April 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News Magazine
Woolworths recently announced an update to its responsible sourcing policy with new requirements for horticulture suppliers using labour hire providers. Amongst other things, the updated policy asks that suppliers:
- Enter into formal (written) contracts with their labour hire providers.
- Ensure overseas workers provided by the labour hire providers have the legal right to work in Australia (ie. through VEVO).
- Ensure fees paid to labour provider allow the provider to pay minimum wages and entitlements to workers.
- Only use labour hire providers who have a license (in Queensland), are StaffSure certified, or are Seasonal Worker Programme approved employers.
Woolworth requires that its new standards are met by all its fresh food suppliers, including all downstream members of the supply chain, by 27 September 2019.
Growcom welcomes this policy update overall as a step in the right direction and agrees with the substance of most of the new requirements which match the Fair Farms Standard.
At the same time however, we have raised with Woolworths our concerns regarding the implementation date of 27 September, which we believe will not work in regions where eligible hired labour is in short supply.
We also view that some of the requirements need further work on the detail, to avoid an overreach in responsibility placed on the grower (host).
We’d like to see a collaborative and harmonised approach towards improving workplace compliance levels in the sector. Growcom hopes to achieve an outcome where retailers adopt consistent policies to reduce the risk of our industry being governed by different sets of ethical sourcing standards.
Incoherent standards tend to create confusion and frustration amongst growers and will drive up compliance costs. Aligned and clear rules, on the other hand, are likely to result in more growers achieving compliance, which is beneficial to both the industry and its workforce.
The Fair Farms Program, with the Fair Farms Standard at its core, aims to provide industry with the one standard for responsible employment practices in horticulture.
A common standard that is developed by the industry. A standard that gives growers and suppliers the confidence that they comply with existing laws relating to employment and do the right thing by their workers in a complex regulatory environment, whether workers are directly employed or engaged through a labour hire provider.
The Fair Farms Program will begin operations by the middle of this year, following the completion of the proof of concept (pilot) phase currently underway. Fair Farms is going through consultations with growers, industry peak bodies and the retailers with the aim to find the required endorsement of Fair Farms as the industry standard.
Supervisors and leading hands play key roles in fair farms
February 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News Magazine
Many growers have a strong commitment to being good employers and operating a fair farm business.
During busy times in the season, when there are large numbers of workers on site, a heavy responsibility falls on supervisors and leading hands in the field and pack shed. Selecting the right people to take on these roles, and providing them with adequate support and training, helps ensure your commitment is carried through to every employee.
The Fair Farms Standard sets out the criteria against which farm businesses will be audited and certified. A draft of the Standard is being tested during the pilot phase of the Fair Farms program.
The draft Standard requires that employees with staff management and supervisory roles have clear position descriptions that outline their roles, responsibilities, levels of authority and legal obligations.
When selecting supervisors, growers should look for people who share their commitment to fair and ethical conduct, and to providing a workplace free from mistreatment, bullying or harassment.
Supervisors must have good communications skills and the right personal qualities to encourage optimal performance from workers. They require the necessary skills to appropriately manage poor performance or unacceptable conduct from workers, without resorting to abuse or harsh treatment.
Staff with supervisory roles should respond promptly to concerns raised by workers and know how to apply the dispute resolution process, if needed. Ensure supervisors understand their responsibilities – and also the limits to their authority.
On a practical level, supervisors should contribute to monitoring workplace safety issues and actively manage rest breaks and hydration to avoid fatigue and heat stress amongst workers.
Supervisors must know who are the qualified first aiders on each shift and where to access first aid kits. They should also be familiar with the farm’s emergency procedures and be ready to guide workers appropriately in an emergency situation.
A good supervisor is willing to be accountable and acknowledge their own mistakes. They should also inspire and demand accountability from others.
Making an investment in the people who play leadership and supervisory roles around the farm pays off through a positive and productive workplace.