FARMERS SQUEEZED: Joylon Burnett, of the Australian Macadamia Society, fears for the viability of many farmers if a new Federal industrial award for the horticultural sector is introduced.
FARMERS SQUEEZED: Joylon Burnett, of the Australian Macadamia Society, fears for the viability of many farmers if a new Federal industrial award for the horticultural sector is introduced. David Nielsen

Farmers fear ruin

MANY Northern Rivers farmers may be forced to the wall if a new Federal horticultural industrial award is adopted, a leading food producer fears.

Speaking after a NSW Farmers' Association seminar on the proposed award in Lismore yesterday, the head of the Australian Macadamia Society said new penalty rates could see wages bills jump by a third.

“This will undermine the financial viability of farms, particularly in this area where you have many small growers operating on very small margins,” the society's chief executive Joylon Burnett said.

“On top of this you have the increasing power of the retail sector which has squeezed their margins further.

“Producers simply don't have the fat to be able to accommodate what may be a 30 per cent increase in labour costs.”

NSW Farmers' industrial relations officer Adam Wilding earlier told the seminar the Industrial Commission will consider the proposed award later this year and it could be in place by July.

Under the proposal, fruit and vegetable pickers and packers would receive overtime if they worked more than 35 hours a week. Pickers would also receive higher rates if they worked outside 6am to 6pm Monday to Saturday.

Mr Burnett said the award would also introduce shift work to horticulture for the first time.

“By its very nature horticulture is a very variable industry - it's very seasonal and there are time-sensitive activities,” he said.

“The nature of horticulture means work can't always be done in normal hours. We need the flexibility to have people work when the crop has got to be picked and packed.”



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