National Farmers' Federation

Statement on Marland Mushroom decision

In a win for agriculture, the Federal Court of Australia has today dismissed an appeal by the Fair Work Ombudsman in a matter that threatened the use of piece rates (a system by which employees are paid on the basis of the amount of work completed) under the Horticulture Award.
Since 2017, the National Farmers’ Federation has represented the horticultural sector’s interests in the matter of Fair Work Ombudsman v Tao Hu & Ors (also referred to as Marland Mushrooms) with the funding support of the Australian Farmers’ Fighting Fund – a charitable organisation that exists to assist farmers fighting significant legal battles.
Piece rates have been used in horticulture for many years to reward workers who have become particularly proficient at certain tasks or complete those tasks more efficiently.
This system works to benefit both employers and employees, often enabling workers to earn considerably more than they would if they were compensated on an hourly basis. The current award provides that rates must be set in such a way that the average, competent worker will earn at least 15% more than if they were paid at the hourly minimum wage for the same amount of work.
The NFF had previously described the Fair Work Ombudsman’s case in Marland Mushrooms as “fundamentally defective” citing concerns that it could lead to a number of negative consequences for employers, workers and third parties.
After an initial victory in the Federal Court in July 2018 (with the Court’s decision in that instance reflecting a pragmatic approach to piece rates that supported both employers and employees) an appeal was soon launched by the FWO.
Support was once again provided to the NFF through the AFFF, with the decision to dismiss the appeal being handed down by the Full Bench of the Federal Court earlier this morning.
While the full ramifications of the majority judgment are still being determined, the dismissal of the appeal is a big victory for hard-working Australians in horticulture.
More details to come.

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