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: 

  1. Enter into formal (written) contracts with their labour hire providers. 
  2. Ensure overseas workers provided by the labour hire providers have the legal right to work in Australia (ie. through VEVO). 
  3. Ensure fees paid to labour provider allow the provider to pay minimum wages and entitlements to workers. 
  4. 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.