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Minimum wage win for farm workers after Fair Work ruling

·3-min read
Stack of Australian cash notes. Close image of fruit picker picking apples using device and sack.
Farm workers will now be entitled to a minimum wage. (Sources: Getty)

Every farm worker on every farm will be entitled to take home a minimum wage after a major Fair Work Commission ruling on Wednesday.

This includes workers who were previously paid a ‘piece rate’, or an income based on the amount of produce harvested.

Workers like Chinese national Xueliang Wang have in recent months complained of systemic wage underpayment, exploitation and brutal working conditions on Australian farms. 

Workers will now be paid at least $25.41 per hour under the Horticulture Award minimum casual rate.

The decision came after the Australian Workers Union (AWU) lodged a claim in December, amid reports farm workers were earning less than $2 an hour.

Unions NSW analysis released in March found 65 per cent of job advertisements for strawberry pickers would see most workers take home less than $2 an hour.

In its decision, Fair Work said the current provisions were “not fit for purpose” and failed to provide a “fair and relevant” safety net for workers.

"The Full Bench was satisfied that the insertion of a minimum wage floor with consequential time-recording provisions in the piecework clause is necessary to ensure that the Horticulture Award achieves the modern awards objective."

British woman wins ‘backpacker tax’ battle

An English backpacker has also won her High Court battle, after claiming Australia’s tax system discriminated against her due to her nationality.

Foreign nationals working in Australia on 417 and 462 visas pay 15 per cent tax on all income, and are ineligible for the $37,000 tax-free threshold.

However, backpacker Catherine Addy claimed the policy, introduced in 2017, was discriminatory. She had worked as a waitress in Sydney between January and May 2017, earning $26,576.

Addy argued the 15 per cent flat tax rate was contrary to an agreement Australia had with Britain mandating foreign workers wouldn’t face more “burdensome” tax requirements than locals.

The High Court agreed that the 15 per cent tax rate meant Addy had in fact been made worse off .

"The tax rate was more onerous for Ms Addy, a national of the United Kingdom, than it was for an Australian national in the same circumstances – doing the same work, earning the same income, under the same ordinary taxation laws,” the High Court judgment read.

The Australian Tax Office (ATO) is now considering the decision.

In a statement, it said the decision wouldn’t affect the majority of working holiday makers and that employers should continue taxing workers as normal.

“Working holiday makers who may potentially be affected by this decision are encouraged to check the ATO website for updated guidance prior to lodging or amending a return or lodging an objection,” the ATO said in a statement.

It added that the decision would only affect working holiday makers from Chile, Finland, Japan, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel who are also Australian residents for tax purposes.

“A working holiday maker’s residency status for tax purposes is determined by the taxpayer’s individual circumstances,” the ATO said.

“Most working holiday makers will be non-residents consistent with their purpose of being in Australia to have a holiday and working to support that holiday.”

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