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‘Restraint’ must be the word for 2009 Wage Review

20 March 2009

THE National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling for a wage freeze as the Australian Fair Pay Commission (AFPC) holds its fourth Wage Review, with the peak farm body seeking to constrain wage growth for the foreseeable future to aid vulnerable businesses.

“With the economic crisis hitting jobs across the country and unemployment predicted to surpass 7% by the end of the year, I don’t think the Commission has any alternative but to freeze wages,” NFF President David Crombie said.

“The vast bulk of jobs in agriculture are skilled trades or farm management positions, with the overwhelming majority of those employees already paid well above minimum and Award rates. This means they are unaffected by the AFPC’s adjustments to the basic wage.

“However, with farms predominantly small family-owned businesses who are still struggling through a 10th year of drought, the most drastically affected are particularly susceptible to movements in wage levels. For those vulnerable businesses, a wage freeze is essential to ensure their employees can hang on to jobs at all.

“The global financial crisis and subsequent credit squeeze, on top of drought, have exacerbated the incapacity of rural employers to absorb further cost increases to their businesses. Many are left with no option but to terminate staff, typically affecting juniors and trainees.

“The result either sees senior staff sharing the extra load or the farm simply reducing production levels through downsizing. Wage constraint will help them save jobs now, but sustain the sector in having the capacity to grow in the longer term, driving a jobs-led recovery out of drought and out of the financial crisis.

“With the last two national account figure showing farm production is the only thing keeping the national economy afloat, and 10,000 new jobs created in the sector since the end of 2007, the last thing we need is wage growth further dampening confidence and shedding jobs.

“We are concerned that the farms that see this drought through stand to deliver many more jobs into the future, which will help Australians to weather the economic turmoil, but this is only likely if farmers can maintain production and staff levels.

“For this reason our submission to the AFPC, lodged today, calls for no increase in minimum wages or Pay Scale classifications. The first directive of the AFPC in setting the federal minimum wage is the capacity for the low paid and unemployed to obtain, and then remain in, work.

“It’s essential we maintain the significant net growth in employment in agriculture. This has been on the back of improving on-farm efficiency, managing input costs such as fertilizer and water, a strong commitment to training and temporary wage constraint within the sector.”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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