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Employing Harvest Casuals

Harvest is a busy time for farmers and their casual employees (harvest casuals), play a crucial role in getting the crop in. Ensuring harvest casuals are satisfied with their employment conditions is always a high priority for farmers. However, the lead up to harvest comes around quickly, which sees many famers overlook the essentials of recruitment and compliance for their harvest casuals. It’s important to get this right, as disputes can be stressful and often costly. Taking the time to sort out employment contracts, award rates, penalties and benefits can be the difference between a swift harvest or a stressful one.

Employment Contracts

Even though you might only be hiring a farm labourer on a casual basis for a few months’ work, it’s important to draw up an employment contract. An employment contract is an agreement between the employer and their employee that sets out the terms and conditions of employment (T&Cs). For example, the T&Cs may outline the role, expected hours, remuneration package, length of employment etc. The T&Cs must not be less than the legal minimum entitlements set out in the National Employment Standards.

Award Rate

Awards are a legal requirement that farmers should use to determine wages for harvest casuals. Listed below are the two common awards that are most relevant to harvest casuals:
Pastoral Award
(Applies to broad-acre mixed farming enterprises)
• Chaser bin operations
• Harvesting
• Cutting/windrowing
• Baling
• Stacking
• Loading/Unloading grain bags • Carting grain/seed
Link: Pastoral Award MA000035
Road Transport (Long Distance) Award
(Applies to trucks leaving the farm gate)
• Carting hay
• Carting straw
Link: Road Transport (Long Distance Operations) Award MA000039

The most applicable award should be chosen on a case by case basis.

The awards outline the national minimum that can be paid to employees. There are a few things to keep in mind when looking at these:
• Ensure you’re looking at the casual rate section; There are different rates between casuals, full-time and part time employees
• Ensure you’re referring to the correct classification section; There are different types of classifications in each award
• Ensure the casual employee is paid at the correct level; The level should reflect the employee’s skills and experience

For example, a farm hand with less than 1 years’ experience has been hired to drive a chaser bin. The employer will look at the following to determine the farm hand’s wages:
• Award – The Pastoral Award
• Employment Type – Casual
• Classification – Broadacre Farming and Livestock Operations
• Classification Level – Farm and Livestock Hand Level 1
• Rate – $24.36/hour + penalty rates where applicable

Fair Work announced a 1.75% increase to minimum wages in June this year. This comes into effect on the 1st of November 2020 and will apply to the Pastoral and Road Transport (Long Distance) Award. Click on the link to find out more: Fairwork 1.75% pay rise

Penalty Rates

It’s common for harvest casuals to work long and irregular hours. When this occurs, employees may be entitled to receive penalty rates to compensate them. The types of entitlements vary between awards, but often includes overtime and public holidays. It’s always important to double check the awards to make sure casuals are receiving the correct penalties.

Employee Benefits

A common mistake ORM has witnessed is when employers deduct benefits from the casual’s hourly rate. Harvest casuals may receive benefits from their employer, such as accommodation, fuel, a vehicle or a mobile. Employers can deduct these amounts from the casual employee’s gross earnings, but not the hourly rate. The casual employee must be paid the minimum rate as per the award before any deductions. It’s important to get this right and agreed to in writing with the employee prior to starting employment.

Now is a great time to put the above points into action if you’re employing casuals this harvest. Taking the time to organise employment contracts, awards, penalty rates and benefits can help clarify what is expected of the harvest casual and the employer. If you’re looking to become an employer of choice, then a great place to start is by visiting the Fair Work website – Fair Work website
ORM can also assist farming businesses with their HR needs. Get in touch to find out more Contact Us

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