During the forum, participants raised a range of issues including a lack of COVID safety measures, unsafe work practices and low wages connected with the piece rate system. The National Horticulture Industry Piece Rate Survey was conducted to build solid evidence on the working experience of horticultural workers, focusing on piece rate worker groups across a variety of crops, exploring their rates of pay, other entitlements and common grievances that occur during employment.
More than 1,300 workers completed the survey. 52% of the respondents were female and 44% were male, from 54 countries, across 6 regions. The survey results indicate that piecework pay is commonly applied in the Australian horticultural industry; up to 91% of survey participants had been paid by piece rate. The majority, 84%, of survey participants, were on temporary visas, with 89% being on a Working Holiday or Work and Holiday visa.
The Horticulture Award requires employers and employees to have genuinely agreed to piece rate work. Our survey evidence is that many employers fail to comply with this requirement; 63% of respondents were not given a choice between piece rates or being paid an hourly rate. 34% said they had never signed a piece rate agreement.
Piece rate workers’ daily working hours are unpredictable, and this variability contributes to income instability and employment insecurity. On average, the maximum and minimum daily working hours shown are highly irregular; the maximum daily working hours across all crops was 20 and the minimum was 1.
The National Horticulture Industry Piece Rate Survey results demonstrate that wage theft is widespread within the horticulture industry and experienced under both payment systems, hourly rate and piece rate, although it was more severe amongst those being paid by piece rate. The survey results revealed that 78% of horticulture workers were underpaid.
Lastly, a significant proportion of survey respondents stated that they had experienced work-injuries, discrimination, bullying, sexual assault or harassment at work. Many had also experienced problems with exploitative transport arrangements and the overpriced, unsanitary and overcrowded nature of employer-provided accommodation.