Horticulture piecework agreement assessment guide

This guide is about paying piecework rates under the Horticulture Award.

A piecework rate can be paid instead of an hourly rate. Paying a piecework rate is a method of payment based on output rather than time and is not a type of employment; pieceworkers are still full time, part time or casual employees.

A piecework rate is where an employee gets paid by the piece. It’s based on the amount the employee has picked, packed, pruned or made.

A piecework rate is based on individual effort only, not group effort.

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Piecework agreements must be in writing

The Horticulture Award says that a piecework agreement must be in writing and signed by the employer and the employee.

The Horticulture Award requires that the employer and employee must have genuinely made the piecework agreement without coercion or duress.

The Horticulture Award requires that the piecework rate agreed is to be paid for all work performed in accordance with the piecework agreement.

An employer must give the employee a copy of the piecework agreement and keep the piecework agreement as a time and wages record in accordance with the Horticulture Award.

If an employer hasn't kept the right records, we may:

For more information, go to Litigation.

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Piecework agreements must have an appropriate pay rate

The Horticulture Award says that a piecework rate must ‘enable the average competent employee to earn at least 15% more per hour than the minimum hourly rate’ for their employment type and classification.

This section looks at the different factors that determine a rate in a piecework agreement.

To work out a piecework rate, an employer needs to identify the average competent employee and their pick rate at the time the piecework agreement is entered into. Piecework rates must be set before starting work under the piecework agreement. They also must be regularly reviewed.

There are many factors that affect what an ‘average competent employee’ is at each enterprise at a particular time. There is no standard across the horticulture industry or within particular industries or locations. It can be different between properties with the same crop type and location. It can even be different on the same property at different times.

There are a range of factors in each case to assess the characteristics and pick rate of the average competent employee. This includes:

The workforce available

  • What level of diligence, aptitude and experience can be attributed to the workers available?
  • How stable is the workforce? For example, does the workforce stay for a long time or just the duration of a season?
  • What is the actual work being performed?

The crop involved

  • Is it a delicate crop that employees need to be careful picking (such as berries or mangoes) or is it a crop that is more robust (such as citrus)? This includes both the crop type (such as apples or mushrooms) and the variety (such as pink lady or granny smith apples; button or oyster mushrooms).
  • How big is the produce?
  • How does the produce ripen?
  • How densely does the produce grow on the plant? For instance, crops that grow densely or in large quantities may be quicker to pick or prune than crops that grow further apart or in smaller amounts.

The plants involved

  • Is the plant in a natural form or has it been modified? For example, has it been shaped or grown on a trellis?
  • What is the plant shape? For example, is it traditional or modern / streamlined?
  • How densely are the plants planted?
  • What is the size of the plant? For example, is equipment needed to reach produce, does the picking involve reaching or bending?

Terrain

  • Is the location flat or on a slope?
  • Is there clear access for people and equipment? For example, has the orchard been mown or is there high grass or is the ground rocky?

The particular harvest

  • What are the picking / pruning conditions? For example, picking may be slower if it’s wet.
  • What is the condition and ripeness of the crop? For example, some crops are less bountiful or harder to pick earlier or later in the season. The fewer healthy items the employee can pick, prune or pack, the more it can impact their ability to meet the piecework rate.
  • Is it a good harvest or a poor harvest?

The picking required

  • Is it selective or strip harvesting? (Selective picking will usually be slower.)
  • Are employees picking into bins or into punnets? For example, punnets are usually more labour intensive and therefore typically result in slower picking.
  • What is the punnet or bin size?
  • What is the difficultly of the work being performed?

The size and experience of the enterprise (the business or farm)

  • How new or experienced is the enterprise?
  • What is the setup of the enterprise? For example, is it a traditional or modern farm, hothouse, or are there raised beds?
  • What is the size of the enterprise? For example, how far do pickers need to travel around the enterprise to harvest or deliver produce?
  • What is the level of mechanisation of the enterprise? For example, is the crop mainly picked by hand or machine?
  • What equipment is used?
  • Is the crop packed in the field or in a shed or elsewhere?

In the packing shed

  • Where is the produce packed?
  • What is the level of mechanisation in the shed?
  • How is the produce packed? For example, are the packers ‘pattern’ packing or ‘tumble’ packing, are they only weighing produce and filling punnets or boxes, are they applying any quality control?

Harvesting/ pick data

  • How many units have been picked by all workers at a particular enterprise or location over a period of time?
  • Have any workers been able to earn 15% above their minimum hourly rate and if yes, how often?

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