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Fair Farms Gains Momentum - 50% Growth in Certifications
March 2021 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
Growcom’s Fair Farms program, which supports growers in proving their commitment to fair wages and decent treatment of the labour force in the horticultural industry, has started to gain ground with the number of certifications issued to farmers doubling since June last year.
Fair Farms is a training and certification program for employers in the horticulture sector. It is designed to help farmers engage in fair and ethical work practices.
It provides growers with best-practice standards for the fair and equitable treatment of employees, in a simpler, less expensive, and locally-designed process that farmers can use to demonstrate they conform to the law and treat workers well.
Fair Farms National Program Manager Marsha Aralar said since June many growers had started the certification process with the program experiencing a 219 per cent increase in the number of producers registered to participate in the program.
“This is a promising result and indicates a growing intent along the supply chain to demonstrate a commitment to fair and equitable work practices and eradicating exploitation,” Ms Aralar said.
“At its heart, Fair Farms is about giving producers easy and affordable access to the resources they need to understand and conform with various laws that underpin the fair treatment of workers.
“It’s about levelling the competitive playing field by raising awareness and commitment to good work practices and conditions while reducing the burden of unnecessary red tape for farmers.”
For those few bad seeds that do not do the right thing, Fair Farms will help weed them out and, through industry and community sentiment, eradicate them from the market.
“It’s not fair for exploitative operators to achieve the same prices in market as those operators who are paying and treating their workers fairly,” Ms Aralar said.
“Decent operators are fed up with being tarnished with the same brush as a few opportunistic operators.”
Ms Aralar said that Fair Farms, which had been designed in collaboration with businesses along the supply chain, was about creating a movement of those who want their produce delivered to the table having been grown ethically and to the highest standards.
“Consumers don’t want wholesome foods like fruit and vegetables produced through unwholesome work practices,” Ms Aralar said.
“With Fair Farms certification, growers will be able to show their commitment to fair and equitable work practices – and this will mean greater access not only to a more willing and able labour force, but to retailers, like Aldi, Coles and Woolworths, who want to meet the needs of customers who increasingly demand products that have been ethically sourced.
“Ultimately, the Fair Farms program is about ensuring Australia has a strong, thriving horticultural industry which benefits not only individual farmers and the industry, but the broader community as a whole.”
In December 2020 Fresh Markets Australia (FMA) the national organisation representing each of the five Market Chambers formerly endorsed the Fair Farms program.
General Manager, FMA Gail Woods said “Fair Farms certification is relevant across the supply chain. The time commitment and the cost of compliance for the industry is increasing, and FMA considers Fair Farms as a straight-forward and affordable compliance option that not only meets the requirements of major supermarkets responsible sourcing policies, but also validates good employee practices.”
Managing and Preventing Heat Stress
January 2021 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
As the weather warms up heat stress presents a more insidious and dangerous hazard each day.
Over the last 120 years, heat has killed more Australians than any natural disaster. Recently, the risks of heat became apparent when a business owner in North Queensland was fined $65,000 for the death of a backpacker who collapsed from heat stress while picking fruit.
With so many industry workers arriving from much cooler climates, it is critically important that you understand the risks of heat stress and how to keep your workers safe.
What is heat stress?
Heat stress refers to any heat related illness that arises when the body cannot cool itself properly. Human bodies regulate heat and cool down by sweating however, sweat can be insufficient which causes body temperature to rise. Heat stress can manifest in relatively mild conditions such as heat rash or heat cramps. While these conditions can seem more inconvenient than dangerous, they can be an early symptom of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and should be treated seriously.
Heat exhaustion happens when excessive sweating in a hot environment reduces blood volume, natural fluid and salt levels. Heavy sweating, paleness, rapid heart rate, muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, nausea and fainting are all warning signs. Heat exhaustion is very dangerous and can develop into heat stroke. If you suspect someone has heat exhaustion:
- Move them to a cool, shaded area and lay them down.
- Remove their outer clothing.
- Wet their skin with cool water or wet cloth.
- If they are fully conscious, increase their fluid intake.
- Seek medical advice.
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 40.5°C and loses the ability to sweat and cool down. Heat stroke can develop rapidly over 10-15 minutes. Warning signs include an extremely high body temperature, red, hot, dry skin, a rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, and nausea. People may stagger, appear confused, have a seizure, or become unconscious as their central nervous systems and organs suffer severe damage. Heat stroke is incredibly dangerous and is fatal in up to 80 per cent of cases. If you suspect someone has heat stroke:
- Call triple zero (000) immediately.
- Try to reduce their body temperature by moving them to a cool, shady area, fanning them continuously and wetting their skin with water.
- Do not give them fluids to drink as the airway may be obstructed.
- If unconscious, lay them on their side.
How to manage heat stress
When it comes to managing heat stress, prevention is better than a cure. The risk of heat stress is highest during heat waves, high humidity, and when temperatures are 5°C or more above average. Workers are at higher risk when working in uncovered areas outdoors. To manage the risk of heat stroke, consider including these strategies into your WHS policies and procedures:
- Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary drink intake.
- Wear lightweight, long-sleeved, cool clothing.
- Provide sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to workers.
- Provide workers with wet towels for cooling down.
- Organise frequent breaks in shaded areas and consider job rotation.
- Plan to schedule outdoor work in the cooler parts of the day.
- If indoors, keep air circulating with fans.
- Check in with your workers frequently about how they are feeling.
- Ensure everyone understands the signs and risks of heat stress and how to manage it.
As the frequency and duration of heat waves increases across Australia, it is more important than ever to stay informed and understand how to keep yourself and your workers safe though hot conditions.
Understanding Industrial Instruments
November 2020 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
Our industrial relations system is uniquely Australian. Since the introduction of unions, the 8-hour workday and the minimum wage more than 100 years ago, our system has been ever evolving to strike the best balance between the interests of employees and employers.
A key component of the Australian industrial relations system is the industrial instrument. “Industrial instrument” is a catch all term that includes any legally enforceable document that determines the employment terms and conditions of workers in an industry or business.
While not the most exciting concept, industrial instruments hold a lot of important information that should guide our business decision making and day-to-day operations.
The Fair Farms Standard promotes that businesses should have a working knowledge of the contents and application of the industrial instruments that apply to their workers, including those provided through Labour Hire Providers
What are industrial instruments?
There are three types of industrial instruments:
- The National Employment Standards (NES)
- Modern Awards
- Enterprise Agreements
The NES are the 10 minimum employment entitlements that cover all employees in Australia, regardless of what Award or Enterprise Agreement they are employed under. The NES is also the primary industrial instrument for Award-free employees. The NES overrides any lesser entitlement in an Award or Enterprise Agreement.
Modern Awards are industrial instruments covering the minimum conditions of employment for an industry or occupation. They work in conjunction with the NES, and cover entitlements such as:
- Rates of pay
- Shift Allowances
- Rest and meal breaks
- Redundancy payments
In the horticulture industry, the most common Awards are the Horticulture Award for manual workers and the Clerks – Private Sector Award for administration workers.
Enterprise Agreements are essentially Awards for individual businesses. They cover the same entitlements, however they are negotiated between employers and employees. The horticulture industry saw many businesses creating Enterprise Agreements in 2009, of which many still apply today. If you have an Enterprise Agreement, it replaces the relevant Award as your industrial instrument.
How to use your industrial instrument
Industrial instruments can be very long and legalistic. The good news is you don’t need to know them off by heart! You just need to know where to look for information when you need it. If your packing shed has an abnormally long day you should be able to quickly pull up your Award or Enterprise Agreement, find what your obligations are and implement them easily.
Labour Hire Providers
In an industry where Labour Hire Providers (LHPs) are so prevalent, it is important to understand how industrial instruments operate. Industrial instruments are specific to the direct employer of workers. If your business has an Enterprise Agreement, it cannot apply to any LHP workers on your site.
When you engage a LHP, you should get an understanding of what industrial instruments apply to their workers. This will give you more confidence that your payments can reasonably cover wages, entitlements and a profit margin.
The issues covered by industrial instruments can determine the daily lives of workers, such as their pay rates, break times and rostering. It is important workers are aware of and understand the industrial instruments that apply to them. Having your industrial instrument be a source of truth for both you and your workers means you can proactively work together to solve any issues instead of letting them snowball.
Therefore, you should keep copies of your industrial instruments in common areas for workers. Update these copies when new versions are released, highlighting the changes. You should also include access to the industrial instruments in their induction package. Remember, empowered workers are productive workers!
July/August 2020 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
When running a business, it is inevitable that complaints or grievances from workers will come up. When managed poorly, grievances can be stressful, time consuming, costly, and negatively impact employee morale and productivity.
Having a clear system for managing grievances reduces your exposure to risk, shows employees they will be fairly treated, and manages your legal and ethical responsibilities with a consistent and objective framework.
The Fair Farms Standard promotes that businesses have a clear and fair grievance policy and procedure in place to support an open and trusting workplace culture.
What is a grievance?
When a worker has a grievance, it means they have an issue about something or someone in the workplace, unrelated to their rights or entitlements. Workers can raise grievances against their employer, or against another employee. Types of grievances workers may raise include:
- Poor communication from management
- Unfair workloads among their co-workers
- Unsafe work practices
Having a policy
The key to managing workplace grievances effectively is having a clear and equitable grievance policy and procedure in place. The benefits of an effective grievance policy include:
- Demonstrating to employees that they will be treated fairly.
- Ensuring employees know how to raise grievances, what to expect out of the process, and feel comfortable doing so.
You should design your policy around your unique business, but generally the policy should outline:
- How your business is committed to resolving grievances fairly and reasonably.
- What types of issues are dealt with under the policy.
- The step-by-step procedure for dealing with and resolving grievances, including timeframes.
Applying the policy fairly
A policy is only as effective as its implementation. Therefore, it is very important that you can apply the policy in a reasonable, equitable and fair manner. One way of ensuring fair implementation is by training any supervisors or senior management staff in how to apply the policy.
However, the most important tool in ensuring your grievance policy works is making sure your employees know about it. Include the policy in new workers’ induction sessions and have a copy in the break room for easy access.
In addition to a clear and fair policy, your business should have a way for workers to anonymously report grievances. While it would be ideal for workers to feel safe and comfortable raising issues directly, they may not feel comfortable because:
- They do not want to be labelled a “snitch” by co-workers
- They have a close relationship with the person they have a grievance about
- They are afraid of retaliation
Importantly, allowing anonymous reporting can help encourage internal resolutions, preventing any additional stress or resources needed to deal with external organisations. Just like the grievance policy, you should clearly outline to your workers how you will deal with anonymous complaints. There are a range of ways to set up an anonymous reporting mechanism, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. An empty tissue box will do the trick!
These and other ethical employment topics are covered in the Fair Farms Standard, which outlines the accepted principles of fair and ethical employment in Australian horticulture. Employers who wish to demonstrate compliance with the Standard can get certified through a third-party audit. For more information, visit: www.fairfarms.com.au or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Guidelines for using Labour Hire Providers
May/June 2020 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
Growers all around Australia rely on Labour Hire Providers for the engagement of seasonal workers. Contrary to widespread belief, using a Labour Hire Provider does not entirely release the grower from their legal and ethical duties to ensure compliance and workers’ welfare. Therefore, it is important to have good processes in place to manage the outsourcing of labour and mitigate the risks involved.
Here are some key recommendations around the use of Labour Hire Providers:
Do your due diligence up front
Before you choose a Labour Hire Provider, it is important to do your due diligence. Steps for selecting a professional provider and identifying dodgy operators may include:
- Reference checks (asking around for experience with a provider)
- Check if the provider has the appropriate license (if applicable) and examine the restrictions and history of that license
- Look for a provider with StaffSure certification (www.staffsure.org)
- Check for unusual patterns that could point towards a sham operator, for example:
- Frequent changes to business name or ABN
- No physical business address or phone number
- No track record of GST
- An ABN check that reveals the entity was registered very recently
Sign a written contract
Your business relationship with the Labour Hire Provider should be documented in a written contract that outlines each party’s legal and ethical obligations to one another and towards workers. The contract should also cover off on how adherence to these obligations will be monitored. Further guidance on what should be included in the contract is given in the Fair Farms Standard.
Monitor what goes on
Continuous monitoring is critical for ensuring that your Labour Hire Provider sticks to their side of the bargain. After all, that’s what you are paying them for. You should put robust monitoring practices in place that suit your circumstances. Ways to monitor the provider should include:
- Asking to review a random selection of worker pay-slips periodically
- Asking the provider for evidence of paying super
- Inspecting worker accommodation or requesting photos
- Educating workers about their legal rights and entitlements
- Providing a grievance process for workers
Pay a reasonable fee
You should ensure that the fees charged by your provider are enough to cover their costs plus a reasonable profit margin. The provider’s costs should normally include:
- Minimum wage for workers (keep in mind overtime and piecework provisions if applicable)
- WorkCover and other insurances
- Payroll tax
- Admin overhead
Always remember that if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Such a proposition is often built on underpayment of workers.
Avoid further subcontracting
Finally, one should be cautioned against further subcontracting of labour (ie. your provider engaging another provider to send you workers). Experience shows that extending the labour supply chain increases the risk of workers being exploited, as each business in the chain takes their cut, often not leaving enough for the worker to get a legal wage. While further subcontracting can be legitimate in certain circumstances, for example for contingency workforce planning, as general guidance, it requires additional due diligence and should be avoided.
These and other topics around ethical employment are covered in the Fair Farms Standard, which outlines the accepted principles of fair and ethical employment in Australian horticulture. Employers who wish to get trained and certified against the Standard can join the Fair Farms Initiative here: www.fairfarms.com.au/registration
Managing bullying, harassment and discrimination
March/April 2020 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
The horticulture industry is lucky enough to welcome workers with diverse backgrounds and experiences that make the industry an interesting and exciting place to work. However, these workers may be vulnerable to bullying, harassment and discrimination. This not only forms a health and safety risks for workers but can also prevent them from performing their job well.
We all deserve a safe place to live and work, therefore Fair Farms encourages growers to have policies and procedures in place to understand, prevent and manage any instances of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
Bullying and harassment
Bullying happens when people repeatedly act unreasonably towards someone in a way that can affect that person’s physical or psychological wellbeing. Bullying can either be direct or indirect.
Direct bullying is negative behaviour that is very clear and explicit, usually conducted to belittle or demean a person. Examples of direct bullying include:
- Abusive or offensive language
- Regular teasing
- Making someone the butt of pranks
Indirect bullying involves more subtle or indirect behaviours that over an extended period have a negative impact. Examples of indirect bullying include:
- Deliberately excluding someone from normal work or social activities
- Spreading rumours about someone
- Deliberately making someone’s job harder to perform by hiding equipment or giving false information
Warning signs that bullying might be occurring in your workplace can include high rates of workers calling in sick, an excessive ‘tough guy’ workplace culture and uneven distribution of work.
Like bullying, harassment is unwanted or uninvited behaviour that is offensive, intimidating or humiliating. However, unlike bullying, harassment can be a single incident that offends or humiliates someone. Sexual harassment occurs when the behaviour directed at a person is of a sexual nature, is unwelcome and would cause a person to be offended, humiliated or intimidated. Sexual harassment is unlawful under both State and Federal legislation.
Discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably because of a characteristic such as ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Like bullying, discrimination can be direct or indirect. While direct discrimination is very easy to see (eg. only hiring white, Asian or female workers), indirect discrimination can be harder to see. For example, a dress code that requires no facial hair when working on a grading line might unknowingly discriminate against workers who have facial hair for religious reasons.
Managing these risks
The first step in managing the risks of bullying, harassment and discrimination is having a clear policy and procedure in place. Your policy should outline:
- Your commitment to a safe workplace and intolerance of bullying, harassment and discrimination
- The types of issues that are handled under this policy
- How your business will handle, investigate and resolve instances of bullying, harassment and discrimination
- How workers can seek help, including contact information for counselling and support services
Once you have a clear policy and procedure in place, it is important to communicate it to all workers and include it in any induction material, so workers feel comfortable and safe to raise an issue. You should also train supervisors or managers in the policy so they are confident in handling arising issues in accordance with the procedures.
These and other important topics are covered in the Fair Farms Standard, which outline the accepted principles of fair and ethical employment in horticulture. Employers who wish to demonstrate compliance with the Fair Farms Standard can get third-party certified. For more information, visit: www.fairfarms.com.au or email us at email@example.com
New annualised salary requirments take effect from March 2020
As part of the four yearly review of modern awards, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has handed down a decision which will impact employers paying annualised salaries to employees covered by a modern award with an annualised salary clause. The three new standard ‘annualised wage arrangement’ clauses will replace the existing annualised salary clauses in 19 modern awards, including the Clerks Private Sector Award 2010, already containing an annualised salary clause. The new terms will also be inserted into three modern awards which have not previously had an annualised salary. The Horticulture Award 2010, MA000023, is one of those awards.
Modern awards that cover employees who work widely variable hours and/or significant ordinary hours of work which attract penalty rates, such as the Horticulture Award, will include an annualised salary clause that requires the agreement of both the employer and the employee.
Moderns awards that cover employees who work usually stable hours, such as those covered by the Clerks – Private Sector Award 2010, will not require employee agreement to implement an annualised salary arrangement.
The FWC has determined the new annualised wage arrangement clauses will not take effect until 1 March 2020.
The new obligations will require employers to:
- keep a record of the annualised wage arrangement, the provisions of the award that are compensated by the annualised salary and record the method by which the salary has been calculated. E.g. specifying how many hours of overtime or penalty rates have been assumed in the calculation of the salary
- record the maximum number of overtime or penalty rate hours that have been taken as paid for in the annualised salary arrangement
- pay an employee for any hours worked which exceed the maximum number of over time or penalty rates at the appropriate award rate of pay. This needs to be paid in the relevant pay cycle
- keep records of the start times and unpaid breaks for each employee and have employees sign, or acknowledge as accurate, that record in each pay cycle or roster cycle
- every 12 months from the commencement of the annualised wage arrangement or on the termination of employment,calculate the amount which would have been payable to the employee under the modern award and compare this against the annualised wage arrangement. If an underpayment is identified, employers must rectify any shortfall within 14 days.
Employers should start to prepare for this change as soon as possible to ensure their business can comply with the requirements of the new clauses. E.g. have systems in place which allow recording of start, finish and break time, and ways to ensure that any hours performed in excess of the agreed maximum will be remunerated as per the award in addition to the annualised wage arrangement.
If you would like to read the full FWC decision, you can find it here.
Providing accommodation to workers
Dec/Jan 2019/20 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
With farms scattered over every corner of Australia, it is common for many growers to provide accommodation to their workers.
Farm accommodation can draw in more workers to remote areas and help backpackers without their own transportation.
Unfortunately, substandard accommodation is a common complaint among transient workers. If you provide accommodation to your workers, it is important to make sure it is a safe and fair arrangement.
The Fair Farms Standard promotes that businesses ensure the accommodation they provide is safe, freely chosen and meets
Where a person lives has a big impact on how happy, healthy and secure they feel. Therefore, accommodation for workers must:
Be in line with local council regulations
- Have emergency exits, fire alarms and safety equipment
- Have appropriate facilities, including toilets, washing, dining, laundry and refrigeration
- Provide easily accessible potable water, hot water and electricity
- Be sanitary and reasonably free from rodents and insects
- Be located away from production buildings (eg. not in a packing shed)
Importantly, the accommodation must not be overcrowded. Generally, there should be two or less people in each room and
each person should have at least 5.5m2 of floor space in sleeping areas.
Additionally, many overseas workers are not used to the climate conditions of working and living in rural Australia. Therefore,
accommodation should have adequate heating, cooling and ventilation.
Finally, workers need to be able to move freely. You cannot excessively interfere or place restrictions on workers’ freedom of
movement beyond what is reasonable for personal safety. This means you cannot lock workers in their accommodation at night or keep them in a remote area without access to transport.
A key element of the Fair Farms Standard is freely chosen accommodation. This means you cannot make workers stay in
your accommodation as part of their job. If you charge workers for accommodation, the cost must be fair and reasonable when
compared with other accommodation options in the area.
If you deduct rent from wages, have written agreements with workers and document the deduction on payslips. If you don’t
deduct wages, make sure you give receipts.
If accommodation falls under a tenancy authority, make sure you and the worker sign a legal tenancy agreement and that you lodge any bond with the relevant authority. If the accommodation you provide falls outside of the tenancy authority, you need to have written agreements in place that outline the conditions of tenancy.
Managing worker fatigue
November 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
Working in horticulture is characterised by hard work with long days to match. It’s not uncommon for workers to put in 12+ hour days, seven days a week in peak harvest times. While the extra pay at the end of the week is tempting, the risk of fatigue is extremely high. Fatigue is defined as mental and/or physical exhaustion that reduces workers’ ability to perform work safely.
Workers who are fatigued:
- Are more likely to make mistakes
- Have difficulty making judgement calls
- Have trouble managing their emotional reactions
- Are more likely to injure themselves or others
Employers who don’t properly manage their workers’ fatigue are not only jeopardising the safety of their workers, but also possibly increasing their cost of production through lower productivity, more mistakes and workers compensation liability.
To ensure workers are safe and productive, the Fair Farms Standard requires that:
- Where workers work additional hours, they should not work more than 60 hours in any seven-day period.
- In exceptional circumstances (including unexpected production peaks, accidents or emergencies), workers can work more than 60 hours, but never more than 80 hours in a week.
- Workers are not to work more than 18 hours in a single day under any circumstances.
- Workers should receive at least one day off in every seven-day period, or two days off in every 14-day period.
- Employers put appropriate safeguards in place to manage the risk of fatigue for their workers.
How to implement
Every grower knows that when your produce is ready, it must be picked and packed. No exceptions. So how do you manage and prevent fatigue? The first step is to identify what factor may cause fatigue at your workplace. This might include long hours, not enough days off, early morning starts, late finishes and hard physical labour. For each of the factors you identify, implement a control measure that mitigates the risk for fatigue.
- Split long shifts into shorter shifts
- Instead of working seven days per week, have a rolling five-day roster with different workers, allowing everyone to have time off
- Rotate staff through different tasks every few hours
- Make sure workers have regular breaks with access to drinking water.
RESOURCE TIP: Safe Work Australia – Fatigue
Developing emergency procedures
October 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine
Agriculture is amongst the most dangerous Australian industries to work in, and with fire and storm season upon us there is no better time than now to review your emergency procedures.
Depending on your business, emergency situations you need to prepare for might include fire, explosions, power outages, medical situations, rescues, incidents with hazardous chemicals, and natural disasters such as cyclones or floods. Being adequately prepared for these events is crucial in keeping you, your employees, and your business safe.
The Fair Farms Standard requires that businesses have thorough emergency procedures that meet their environmental risks, and effectively train their employees in how to implement them.
What is an emergency procedure?
An emergency procedure is a written set of instructions that outlines what workers and any visitors should do in each type of emergency. To determine what emergencies you need to prepare for, undertake a basic risk assessment of your workplace. For example, if your employees often work near creeks, you need to have a clear procedure for flooding; if working with flammables, then a clear emergency procedure is vital. Procedures do not need to be lengthy or complex, but you do need an easy to understand plan for each emergency outlined in your risk assessment.
What do I need to include in an emergency procedure?
The person responsible in your business for Work Health and Safety (WHS) creates emergency procedures and may do so in consultation with workers. These procedures need to include:
- Chain of Command – make sure your team knows who is in charge in an emergency or disaster situation.
- The immediate response to the emergency eg. removing people from a danger area
- Evacuation procedures – assembly procedures and points, accounting for employees
- How to notify emergency services and who does this
- How to provide medical assistance
- How emergency information will be communicated at the workplace
- Testing of procedures
The Fair Farms Standard also requires that businesses have a trained and appointed fire warden as part of their procedures. Fire wardens are responsible for preventing fires by being aware of and reducing potential fire hazards in the workplace, and for implementing the emergency procedures for a fire.
Fire warden training can be undertaken in person or online through multiple Registered Training Organisations. You should also contact your local Fire Service who can help with advice about controlled burns and managing risks.
Once you have developed your emergency procedures, it is very important to train your staff in how to implement the plans. In emergency situations, staff need to know what to do very quickly to ensure everyone’s safety, including their own.
To ensure your procedures are up to date, make sure you review them annually against the Fair Farms Standard. Be aware that rules change so it’s important that you keep up to date. If you do find that your procedures need updating, amend them and re-train your staff in those changes. You should also review your procedures when there are major changes to your business such as relocation, refurbishments, staff number/ composition or new business activities.
Resource tip: SafeWork Australia – Emergency Plans www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/topic/emergency-plans-and-procedures
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.