South Australian wine grape growers to go into arbitration with unions over working conditions

Source: abc.net.au

The South Australian Wine Industry Association will follow through on a submission to the Fair Work Commission to change the modern award rate for casual employees working in the wine sector.

The SA Wine Industry Association wants to halve the minimum engagement time casual employees are entitled to work, from four to two hours.

The current award rate stipulates that employers must either provide four hours work or four hours pay each time they engage a casual worker.

Chief executive of the SA Wine Industry Association, Brian Smedley, said the proposed change would be contested by unions in front of the Fair Work Commission in March next year.

“At this stage we have had discussions with unions about our proposal and there is no agreement that has been reached.

“At the end of the day, this is really about what is fair and a relevant safety net for terms and conditions for the wine industry employment,” Mr Smedley said.

There are concerns that a change in the wine award would affect workers in grape growing, manufacturing, retail and hospitality sectors, who are often subject to sudden changes in their labour requirements.

Mr Smedley said the current award is out of line with other agricultural sectors, including the horticulture award where employers are not required to guarantee minimum working hours for casual employees, such as table grape pickers.

Wine grape growers said they were exposed to financial risk during peak periods around harvest.

They claimed they often have to send home large numbers of casual vineyard workers after one to two hours of work due to weather, yet were still obliged to pay the remainder of the minimum engagement.

South Australia produces 47 per cent of the nation’s total wine crush, with the total workface increasing tenfold during peak periods over harvest.

Mr Smedley said the wine industry was trying to reduce challenges hampering the competitiveness of Australian wine and needed more flexibility in the workplace.

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