Tasmania berry season kicks off

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Costa Berries Tasmania today (November 17) launched its local recruitment campaign for the 2021/22 harvest season.

Costa Berries Tasmania General Manager Cameron Folder was joined by Guy Barnett, Minister for Primary Industries and Water, at the East Devonport Strawberry Farm.

Mr Folder said the aim of the campaign was to build upon the success of last summer’s season.

“Last season we employed almost 500 locals in a variety of roles from picking, crop maintenance, pack shed work and truck driving,” Mr Folder said.

“An important part of last season’s recruitment was the support the horticulture industry received from the Tasmanian and Australian Governments.”

Costa welcomes the continuation of these initiatives for the upcoming season including the Tasmanian Government’s Tassie Harvest Jobs – Take Your Pick local worker campaign and the Australian Government’s AgMove program that supports potential workers to relocate to regional areas for the harvest season.

Costa’s local recruitment campaign is multi layered including a range of digital, print and radio advertising, recruitment days across North and North West Tasmania, school and university information days.

Costa is also working closely with local employment agencies and providing support to people who need assistance with the application process.

The first application assistance session will be held at our East Devonport Distribution Centre to help people through the application process. Costa has also started planning off-site North West Coast recruitment days, with the first to be held in Devonport on December 9.

Mr Folder said it was pleasing that many of the locals who started work with Costa last season, have continued over the winter months in maintenance roles, preparing the crop for this season’s harvest.

Costa will also be increasing the number of Pacific Island Seasonal Workers it employs directly, rather than through labour providers, to complement the local workforce.

With the loss of backpackers across Australia there is an increased need to find alternative labour.

“Next week Costa will be transferring 136 seasonal workers from our citrus operations in South Australia to work on local farms. The workers will be accommodated in Devonport and just as the local community embraced the seasonal workers last season, I am sure the people of Devonport will give them a warm welcome,” Mr Folder said.

AFPA Statement on the variation of the Horticulture Award 2021

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The Fair Work Commission has handed down a decision to vary the Horticulture Award to ensure that all pieceworkers must be paid a minimum hourly rate in accordance with the employee’s classification and type of employment. The Commission’s decision has set a clear and enforceable standard for employers in the industry.

The Commission’s decision relies on evidence of non-compliance with the current Award as a basis for making this variation. It is the employers that are at the heart of this evidence and ongoing media reporting that must be subject to enforcement following the implementation of this variation. For too long, employers who willingly and actively participate in third-party audited employment schemes, engage openly with Unions and participate in industry discussions on workplace conditions are the employers that are the subjects and targets of enforcement – which does nothing to address non-compliance.

This separation of good and compliant employers from poor, non-compliant employers must now be addressed. Regulators, like the Fair Work Ombudsman must be well resourced to provide education materials on how to implement the Commission’s decision and enforce it. The implementation of this decision from the Fair Work Commission is critical to addressing the uneven playing field non-compliant employers have benefited from for far too long.

Evidence, and reports made of underpayment must be rigorously pursued by well-resourced regulators and must focus on those employers that hide in the supply chain, that will not credential themselves with industry standards and third-party audits and that refuse to believe the rules apply to them. It is these poor practices that the Commission’s decision is based upon, and it is these employers that need to become compliant or simply exit the industry.

While enforcement from regulators is a key component of implementing the Commission’s decision, success at levelling the playing field in the sector will only come when the fresh produce supply chain refuses to purchase from, support or advocate for employers who are wilfully non-compliant.

Retail, wholesale and food service buyers of fresh produce must acknowledge the same evidence that the Commission has considered, that is, there are a number of employers who are not compliant with conditions stipulated in the Horticulture Award. Whether purchasing directly, or indirectly, buyers must not ignore this and need to ensure that their supply chains are only made up of employers that are ready, willing and able to meet the new standards set in the Award. Non-compliance can no longer be rewarded.

Members of the AFPA are committed to developing a productive and returning workforce. Increases in the number of Australians and Pacific visa holders employed, a rigorous new Agriculture Visa, and now a commitment to enforcement from the Commission through this decision are all key in assisting industry to develop this workforce.

The Commission’s decision must be used by all fresh produce stakeholders to level the playing field among growers and reward only those who are committed to ethical, sustainable and productive employment.

About AFPA – The Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA) is made up of Australia’s key fresh produce growers and suppliers, including Costa. AFPA members represent half the industry turnover of the Australian fresh produce (fruit and vegetables) sector – $4.5 billion of the $9.1 billion total; 1,000 plus growers through commercial arrangements and more than 15,000 direct employees through peak harvest, and up to 25,000 in the grower network.