Horticulture farmers can breathe a sigh of relief following a common-sense ruling in defence of existing piece work provisions.
The High Court of Australia today accepted the National Farmers’ Federation arguments in refusing the Fair Work Ombudsman’s special leave application, in which they sought permission to lodge an appeal against the split decision of the Federal Court in Fair Work Ombudsman v Hu & Ors (the Marland Mushrooms case).
Currently, pursuant to the Horticulture Award, piece work rates are fixed by agreement, between the employer and the employee, at a rate that enables the average, competent worker to earn at least 15 per cent more than the minimum hourly rate.
“The NFF feared the case had the potential to set a precedent for how the award was applied across the horticulture sector, an industry that depends on piece work,” NFF Chief Executive Officer Tony Mahar said.
Chief Justice Susan Kiefel and Justice James Edelman presided over the application, which consisted of arguments from both parties asserting why the decision in the Federal Court meant that that matter should (or should not) be re-examined on appeal by the High Court.
The FWO, as the applicant, was represented by three queens counsel.
The NFF, with the financial support of the members of the NFF Horticulture Council, intervened solely to ensure the integrity of piece work arrangements and had no comment on the liability of the employers in questions.
The Australian Farmers Fighting Fund also assisted with the matter. Chief Justice Kiefel rejected the application.
“This is a significant win for growers and a demonstration of the benefit when a sector comes together, in this instance, via the NFF Hortuclture Council,” Mr Mahar said.
“It is critical that piece work arrangements are fair and the rights of both the worker and employers are respected.
“However, a successful outcome for the FWO’s would have effectively undermined the provisions rendering piece work rates pointless and unserviceable,” Mr Mahar said.
This matter is now effectively settled with the Fair Work Ombudsman have no further avenue to pursue it.