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Fair Work Act fails to address farmer concerns

6 August 2012

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has responded to the release of the Fair Work Act review, acknowledging the incremental improvements recommended by the review panel, but noting that the review does not go far enough in addressing the concerns raised by farmers.

“In making our submission to the Fair Work Act review, we outlined ten recommendations based on the need to increase employment flexibility and productivity on Australian farms,” Chair of the NFF Workplace Relations Committee, Charlie Armstrong, said.

“While the review acknowledges some need for greater flexibility, it does not go as far as farmers and NFF were hoping on the need for individual flexibility agreements between employees and employers.

“Quite simply, in its current form, the Fair Work Act does not live up to what was promised by the Government: it is not simpler or fairer. Flexibility is billed as a key feature of the Fair Work Act, yet we do not believe that the law allows for genuine flexibility for farm workers, and nor has the review recognised this need.

“It is well known that Australian agriculture experiences significant problems in attracting skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour, and finding solutions to this is vital for agriculture to meet the challenges ahead. We often talk about agriculture needing to produce more food and fibre with fewer resources, and increasingly, one of our scarcest resources is our people.

“Without further changes to our national employment laws to encourage greater flexibility, future productivity gains in our sector are compromised.

“As it is, farmers have told us that the onerous paperwork and red tape that they currently have to wade through under the Fair Work Act often impacts on employment. The legislation is increasing the cost to business of labour hire, and in some cases, farmers are being forced to invest in machinery rather than employ people as a way of decreasing costs and increasing productivity.

“That not only impacts our farmers and the wider agriculture sector, but also has a negative flow on effect to towns and communities in rural areas.

“We strongly believe that the Government must simplify and reduce the level of regulation and prescription in the Fair Work Act, and we will continue to work with the Government to ensure the concerns of agriculture are heard,” Mr Armstrong said.

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