Home' National Farmers Federation : Annual Review 2008-2009 Contents 50 NATIONAL FARMERS' FEDERATION ANNUAL R EVIEW 2008-09
Over the past 12 months, the NFF has
delivered strong workplace relations
advocacy, while leading the innovative
advancement of new and modern policy
initiatives to strengthen farm workplaces.
The pervasive reforms commencing in 2006
under the WorkChoices legislation called for
increased attention on a raft of technical
issues, which, at the very least, saw farmers
left confused and entwined in more red tape
in terms of the operation of their workforces.
Concurrently, labour availability and
skills shortages continued to plague
agriculture, particularly across skilled roles,
such as shearers and farm managers, as
well as seasonal work in horticulture.
Following the launch of the our 2008
Labour Shortage Action Plan, the NFF
proactively embarked on key initiatives
to target the many and varied specific
areas of labour and skills shortages.
Since the change of federal government, the
NFF has remained at the coalface of developing
and implementing further reforms under the
Rudd Government's Forward with Fairness policy.
Again, this saw the NFF 'up the ante' in
developing workplace policy, presenting
both significant challenges and exciting
opportunities for policy settings vital
to modern farm workplaces.
A pillar of the Federal Government's policy
platform was the abolition of WorkChoices.
On numerous occasions, reform of industrial
relations legislation has proven exceedingly
challenging at the technical level - more so
than the traditional policy debate around the
nature of workplace rights and obligations.
With this in mind, the NFF maintained its
leading role on the National Workplace
Relations Consultative Council, chaired by
Deputy Prime Minister The Hon Julia Gillard MP.
This included a leading representational role on
the Committee on Industrial Legislation, which
has the ongoing charge of reviewing proposed
legislation prior to its introduction in Parliament.
The NFF continued to champion the
value of flexible workplaces - not only
because of the unique needs of most of
agriculture's sub-sectors - but the changing
nature and needs of workers and working
families in modern workplaces.
Accommodating desired flexibility by both
employers and employees, alike, is a key aspect
of the NFF's lobbying - not only to achieve
a fair level of flexibility, but because of the
importance flexibility plays in the minds of
jobseekers. For example, farmers increasingly
pressed to find workers have been all too often
restricted in delivering to individual needs.
The NFF recognised, albeit with skepticism,
the scope within the proposed modern
Awards under Forward with Fairness, to
deliver some degree of flexibility around
prescriptive Award conditions.
The Award modernisation process was
the most significant preliminary stage
of the Government's implementation
of its new workplace relations system,
purporting to be at the core of promises
for workplace arrangements to be
national, inclusive, fair and simple.
The NFF was quick to offer its expertise
and leadership, in a facilitative fashion, to
bring together not only its members and
employee representative counterpart, the
Australian Workers' Union (AWU), but other
non-member peak and representative bodies
with interests in agricultural employment.
Despite contentious and public exchanges
instigated by the AWU, the process was
invaluable to ensure the opportunity for input
by all major stakeholders into the modern
Awards that would apply to the industry.
The exposure drafts released by the Australian
Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC)
raised considerable alarm, with key long-
standing accepted provisions of the Pastoral
Industry Award not being maintained despite
significant information and argument to
the contrary being submitted by the NFF.
The draft Horticultural Industry Award did,
overall, provide an appropriate outcome.
As a consequence, with the backing of
the AFFF, the NFF secured the services of
Senior Counsel to conduct the NFF response
to the draft Pastoral Industry Award.
The NFF highlighted significant cost increases
- between 10% and all the way up to 100%
(in the case of the dairy industry) - if the
Award draft remained as it stood. The NFF's
challenge was subsequently upheld and
farmers were saved those cost hikes.
Another concern for the NFF has been that
the Government's Forward with Fairness
policy hinges entirely upon the full referral of
powers by the states to the Commonwealth.
Without this, the Federal Government
cannot succeed in its pledge of delivering
one unitary industrial relations system.
Further, technical complexities, arising from
any residual state systems, and the prospect of
introducing completely new national legislation,
have seen the NFF heighten its advocacy
to reinforce the Government's obligation
for a simple system, while maintaining the
important provisions to the various kinds of
agricultural production and their workforces.
National Wage Review
The determination of minimum wages
continued to remain the function of
both the Australian Fair Pay Commission
and the AIRC. The NFF made a strong
case for restraint to wages growth in the
sector, however, opted not to pursue an
extension of the deferral we won in 2007.
The increase of $21.66 was certainly
considerably higher than the NFF's
longstanding policy suggests is reasonable.
Notwithstanding this, NFF surveys of farmers
revealed only a very small number of those
eligible for the deferral on wages, in fact, did so.
Yet, for those few who did defer wage hikes,
reported that the option made the difference
between terminating and retaining staff.
There was no challenge by opponents in
the hearing to our initial submissions, as well
as subsequent evidence, that this option
would be used responsibly and minimally.
In fact, feedback highlighted tremendous
solidarity between farmers and their
employees in a joint understanding of
the need to share the pain through the
difficult and devastating drought.
Importantly, the fine line some within the
FARM workplaces continue to underpin the multi-faceted plan to secure the strength of
Australian agriculture and its future. In recent years, the National Farmers' Federation
(NFF) has led the industry through workplace policy issues -- presenting greater
challenges and more opportunities -- for agricultural workplaces than ever before.
Workplace Relations WITH DENITA WAWN
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