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    Yet another case in today's news of a labour hire company underpaying fruit Pickers. Let's hope they do away with the piece rate.

    The way in which the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) interprets workplace laws could expose people to exploitation, the Federal Court in Brisbane has been told.

    Key points:

    • Case could have wide implications for piece rates, which is the payment of workers by the amount they pick
    • It's alleged more than 400 mushroom pickers were underpaid $646,000 in 2014
    • Lawyer for Fair Work Ombudsman says the piece rate set for workers "came nowhere near complying" with the law

     

    The Fair Work Ombudsman is prosecuting a case under the Horticultural Award, which could have wide implications for piece rates — the payment of workers by the amount they pick, rather than an hourly rate.

    The case centres around the alleged underpayment of more than 400 mushroom pickers at Marland Mushrooms' farm at Stapylton, south of Brisbane, in 2014.

    Justin Bourke QC for the Fair Work Ombudsman told the court that labour hire company HRS Country Pty Ltd underpaid the workers a total of $646,000 between January 1 and August 31, 2014.

    He said the piece rate set for workers "came nowhere near complying" with the Horticulture Award 2010.

    Under the award, a piece rate should allow an average, competent worker to earn at least the minimum hourly rate plus 15 per cent, he said.

    The Marland Mushroom workers were receiving between 60 and 80 cents for each kilogram of mushrooms they picked, but should have been getting at least 91 cents per kilogram to meet award requirements, he argued.

    Labour hire company failed to pay minimum rates, court told

    Mr Bourke alleged HRS Country breached the award by failing to pay the minimum award rates for adult and junior workers, and also failed to pay holiday pay, casual loadings and rest breaks.

    Tao Hu is facing court as the sole owner-operator of HRS Country, which went into liquidation in August 2016.

    The Fair Work Ombudsman is also taking action against Troy Marland and his company Marland Mushrooms Qld Pty Ltd as accessories to the award contraventions.

    Mr Bourke alleged Mr Marland knew the pickers on his farm were not receiving award payments.

    Justice Darryl Rangiah asked Mr Bourke whether piece rates, once agreed between employers and employees, could be changed under the award.

    "Under the National Farmers Federation's construction, you don't have to fix it," Mr Bourke said. "That's not usually the way an award is interpreted."

    He said the NFF position opened up a level of exploitation that was "hard to fathom that's how clause 15.2 [of the Horticulture Award] is meant to work in a modern award".

    The NFF successfully applied to the Federal Court to intervene in this case so it could put its view on the correct interpretation of piecework provisions in the award.

    The hearing continues.

     

     
     

    If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.

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