National Farmers' Federation

NFF urges a rethink on fraught industrial relations Bill

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has sent a clear message to the Albanese Government: The Closing Loopholes Bill is fraught with issues that will make it harder and more expensive than ever to create employment opportunities in farming.

The NFF Workforce Committee Chair Tony York told the Senate Committee responsible for the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill would only add layers of complexity to the industrial relations system, push up costs and make doing business more difficult than ever before.

“Farmers are managing a deluge of headwinds at the moment – they’re on the cusp of drought, commodity prices are falling through the floor, and inputs have skyrocketed on the back of inflation,” Mr York said.

“Add to that to one of the industry’s biggest ongoing challenges – building a reliable, committed and capable workforce.

“The NFF welcomes rational and well-considered reform to industrial relations and labour policy, yet we have a Bill in front of us that will do the opposite.

“These reforms will create a spiderweb of complexity, making the rules near impossible to navigate for the average small farming business that doesn’t have a dedicated HR department.

“The Government has a choice here to create meaningful reforms that will boost productivity and help solve one of agriculture’s biggest challenges.

“Instead it is choosing a path that will drive up the costs to engage employees and create a system people will walk away from.”

The NFF also sounded alarm bells on several other aspects of the Bill:

  • It establishes a regime for dictating pay arrangements in labour hire and service contractor situations.
  • It gives the Fair Work Commission power to make decisions beyond its traditional workplace remit, authorising it to control commercial arrangements.
  • It gives unions enhanced rights to enter farms unannounced, potentially intruding on personal privacy and creating biosecurity, animal welfare, and health and safety risks.
  • Changes to the meaning of casual employee will deprive businesses of certainty and flexibility.

Mr York said the NFF wasn’t drawing a line through all the measures in the Bill.

“Small business redundancy reforms, and protection for victims of family and domestic violence represent good policy.

“While we are frustrated at the missed opportunity to make good on Labor’s election promise to introduce national labour hire licensing, we support increases to penalties for underpayment.

“But these are small wins that don’t offset the poor policy in the rest of the Bill.”

Mr York said Australian agriculture had a bright future and the industry-wide aspiration to become a $100B industry by 2030 was within reach.

“However the immediate outlook is less positive. Only last week ABARES painted a grim picture with farm incomes to be slashed a staggering 41% and this Bill will do nothing to turn that around.

“Australian agriculture has enormous untapped potential, but we need an industrial relations system that supports workers and businesses. “It’s not too late to fix this Bill and we call on this Government to come to the party and create policy settings that ensure farms are competitive and desirable workplaces.”