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Forget the pub test, apply the farm test, farmers tell Coalition

10 May 2013

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has welcomed a move towards greater flexibility in workplace arrangements under the Coalition’s industrial relations policy, but says it does not go far enough on support for small businesses, including farms.

NFF President Duncan Fraser said it was good to see the Coalition releasing its policy well ahead of the election, but farmers would like to see greater detail and a commitment to action prior to 2016.

“People are agriculture’s most important resource – both on and off the farm. As a sector, we have identified that we need to build our workforce, develop our skills and expertise, and allow for greater flexibility to compete with the high wages offered by other sectors,” Mr Fraser said.

“We believe the current Fair Work laws do not go far enough in addressing these areas, and in releasing the Coalition’s policy yesterday, the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he would consider changes to the laws if he wins the 2016 election.

“While this is good news, farmers cannot afford to wait that long: real change to improve workplace flexibility and encourage more entrants into the agricultural sector is needed now to help farm businesses become more competitive and productive. This change is also needed to help Australian farm businesses stay competitive against our international competitors, and to help other businesses throughout the supply chain – the cost of labour is not only hurting farmers, but also strangling our food manufacturing sector.

“Mr Abbott spoke yesterday of the ‘pub test’ for any future changes to the workplace relations laws – we will be applying the ‘farm test’ to ensure that any proposed changes benefit the farming sector.

“As it stands, we welcome the Coalition’s proposal to have the Fair Work Ombudsman provide targeted and clear help to businesses. We believe this could be best achieved through a reduction in the red tape required to employ people to work on farms, as we know that red tape is one of the most significant burdens for the farming sector.

“We also welcome a stronger link between enhanced productivity and wage increases; ensuring the Fair Work Commission considers productivity gains in approving enterprise agreements. This will ensure that any increase in the investment of farm labour is linked with an increase in farm productivity – helping to address the issue of spiralling costs.

“Overall, while we’re welcoming of this announcement and some of the policy’s specific focuses that will benefit farm businesses, we want to see greater action from all sides of Parliament to encourage more people into agriculture,” Mr Fraser said.

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