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Decision protects horticulture industry from back pay risks

“The Australian Industry Group welcomes the decision of a Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission to vary the coverage of the Horticulture Award, backdated eight years, to preserve flexible and cost-competitive employment conditions in the horticulture industry. The decision is the outcome of a major case in which the Australian Industry Group strongly opposed a push by the National Union of Workers (NUW) to impose warehousing award conditions on horticulture businesses. The claim would have cost horticultural businesses many millions of dollars a year,” Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group said.

“The horticulture industry involves a series of integrated activities such as growing, picking, cleaning, grading, bagging and then dispatching to supermarkets or food processing companies. The Horticulture Award will now clearly cover all of these activities.

“Over the past few years, the NUW has endeavoured to force horticulture businesses to apply the inflexible and overly costly conditions in the main warehousing industry award (i.e. the Storage Services Industry Award) to the centralised washing and packing facilities that are common in the horticulture industry. This would have been crippling for horticulture businesses.

“When the Horticulture Award came into operation in January 2010, the Commission stated that it was intended to cover activities within the ‘farm gate’. A central issue in the current case was the meaning of the ‘farm gate’. The unions argued that the farm gate is the boundary of a farm. Ai Group argued that the ‘farm gate’ is a concept; it represents the point where produce moves from the producer to the first point of sale (e.g. to a supermarket chain). The Full Bench accepted Ai Group’s arguments.

“There was a great deal of evidence heard by the FWC Full Bench in the case, as well as site inspections and many days of hearings. On the evidence, the Commission has decided to vary the coverage clause of the Horticulture Award, operative from 1 January 2010, to protect horticulture businesses from the NUW’s claims. The outcome is very important for the horticulture industry,” Mr Willox said.

Source: Ai Group

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