Vegetable farmer Mitch Brimblecombe. The 22-year-old manages Moira Farms, growing produce in the Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim.
Vegetable farmer Mitch Brimblecombe. The 22-year-old manages Moira Farms, growing produce in the Lockyer Valley and Scenic Rim.

How farmers, casuals are being impacted by wage changes

FARMERS believe changes to how they now need to pay their casual employees is not only impacting how run their businesses but the lives of their workers as well.

The Fair Work Commission ruled in April last year that casuals working on horticultural farms who work more than 38 hours a week need to be paid overtime.

Almost a year on, 230 growers employing more than 11,500 people, have responded to a survey launched by peak representative body Growcom about the amendments to the Horticulture Award.

The survey found nearly 90 per cent of growers reported managing staff hours in order to limit the build up of overtime and 60 per cent have had employees end their employment due to changes in their hours.

CEO David Thomson said imposing the same employment conditions around the country to a seasonal industry like horticulture was never going to work.

"Growcom, together with peak industry bodies around the country, will be considering how best to use the results of the national survey as the evidence our industry needs to advocate for future changes to the award," he said.

Fifth generation grower Mitch Brimblecombe, who farms in the Scenic Rim and the Lockyer Valley, said farmers struggling with the drought cannot afford to pay the overtime.

"The trade off is then you employ more people but you're generally cutting back everyone's hours to the cap," he said.

"We operate predominantly under the casual award because our hours vary significantly week to week.

"It takes more time and energy to train more people. What you're sacrificing is operator experience and that's a big issue. There's a bit more risk for me as an employer as I have to get more operators in.

"They need the experience to do the job well and do it professional, safely and in a timely matter."

Mr Brimblecombe said workers were being caught short as a result, even if they were desperate for more hours.

"If they want to do more hours to get ahead, to pay a bit extra off their house or put a bit of extra food on the table … they can't," he said.

"Now we have to say after 38 hours you're going to have to knock off. They might have to go and work for someone else … it puts a strain on them. It's crippling to be honest."

Steve Kluck of Limit Farms employs a mix of locals and backpackers across farms in the Lockyer Valley and said the changes were another example of growers being restricted by red tape.

"It shows how out of touch the people that make the rules for us are," he said.

"We are dealing with this on a daily basis, whether it be about water, resources or labour.

"It's hard for us because you've got good people you've trained and they want to work and we want to use them but we can't."

Mr Kluck, who grows small vegetables on about 160ha, said the changes to the award went against all sense.

"The industry we're in is seasonal so if there's work you do 50 hours (a week) and when there's no work you have time off," he said.

"While there's a chance to make money in the winter they're not allowed to make it.

"All the ones that could be going to work 50 or 60 hours (a week) to provide for their families now can't put food on the table because no one can afford to pay them time and a half."

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