THE Federal Government has steered its Fair Farms initiative through stakeholders in the horticulture industry in a bid to restore consumer and public confidence in the sector as an ethical employer.
Fair Farms aims to offer growers in the horticulture sector “the tools they need to ensure workers are treated fairly” according to Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Anne Ruston. The industry has been hit by media exposure of unfair work practices, especially in relation to international students working in the sector on temporary working holiday visas.
Development of the Fair Farms Initiative was led by Growcom, Ms Ruston said, with support from the Queensland Horticulture Council, and funded by the Australian Government through the Fair Work Ombudsman's Community Engagement Grants Program.
“I deal first-hand with many growers across the nation, and I know that the vast majority of growers work hard to do the right thing, treating their workers fairly and complying with workplace laws,” Ms Ruston said.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the reputation of this fantastic industry that has been built by hardworking Aussies has been negatively affected by the actions of a few.
“The Fair Farms Initiative will help ensure growers have the tools and knowledge to treat their workers fairly and ethically, including through education, benchmarking and certification.
“It will also help to restore the reputation of the horticulture sector, so that consumers and the wider public can be confident that the sector takes an ethical approach to workplace relations.”
Ms Ruston said the initiative would comprise five main components, starting with a series of information articles on key workplace relations issues being published in industry magazines including Fruit and Vegetable News, Vegetables Australia and other regional and industry publications.
Ms Ruston said the Hort360 Workplace Relations best management practice (BMP) module would also be rolled out nationally, over the next four years, to enable growers to do a confidential risk assessment of their current practice and identify areas for improvement.
Targeted regional seminars are planned throughout Australia focusing on key areas of non-compliance.
Another key intiative is the development of a voluntary third-party Audited Certification for growers, through Freshcare, to enable them to demonstrate compliance.
Ms Ruston said the final chapter of the initiative was “the development of a pathway to qualifications in Human Resources, for interested growers”.