Labour costs are among the highest input costs for most fresh food producers; and unlike other rising costs, the cost of labour it is not fixed.
When faced with pressure from supermarkets on price, many producers have looked to squeeze labour costs in order to improve margins.
This cost-shifting and risk-shifting onto workers has led to the emergence of a large number of exploitative labour practices.
Across the fresh food industry, producers have utilised unscrupulous labour hire companies who wilfully under pay workers, ignore the basic minimum Award conditions and create a climate of fear and intimidation in which workers are afraid to uphold their basic employment rights.
Once some producers do this, the whole industry is affected as others look for ways to keep up.
Producers and their labour hire operators have been able to get away with this exploitation for so long because Supermarkets have paid very limited attention to the conditions of work endured by workers on their supplier's farms, and because the minimum employment standards in the industry are so poor.
The Horticultural Award – which covers the fruit & vegetable industry – is one of the weakest in Australia.
This Award incentivises casual employment by allowing a producer to employ a casual worker for an unlimited number of hours at a flat hourly rate, without additional reward for overtime, weekend work, or unsociable hours.
The Award also enables employers to pay workers piece-rates, which create pressure on workers to perform their role at cut throat speed in order to earn a decent wage. This leads to unsafe and unsustainable work practices.
These and other exploitative practices are the norm in the industry, and until recently, the Supermarkets have made no effort to ensure workers are treated fairly.
Coles and Woolworths both have Ethical Codes of Conduct, but neither of the supermarkets audit suppliers to ensure they are in compliance.
Coles 以及 Woolworths兩家澳洲最大的量販業主,一直都有勞動倫理規範協議,以確保其上游供應商有合法的勞動條件,沒有工人被剝削的狀況。但此份協議一直以來都束之高閣,沒有執行。
Despite being presented with evidence of widespread worker exploitation at some of their largest suppliers, both supermarkets believe that Australia is a "low risk" country and don't believe they have a responsibility to do more to improve conditions.