Fruit Picking Jobs in Australia – What, Where, How (and Why!)

Chapter 5: Farm work pay rates and structure

Published: 11-09-2019

Author

Julie

Farm work pay rates and structure

Not all tasks, employers, fruits and vegetables pay the same. Logically, tougher jobs like pruning or planting trees and heavier fruits like pineapples should pay more.

There are also two ways to get paid—per hour or by quantity of fruit picked.

That said, wages are based on the Australia Standard wage rate for casual farm work and on their relevant award. There are different minimum wages for different job types and awards, each of these stems from one core minimum wage.

In Australia, an award is an enforceable document containing minimum terms and conditions of employment in addition to any legislated minimum terms. Two awards are relevant here—the Horticulture Award 2010 and the Wine Industry Award 2010 (e.g. for grape picking employees). If you’re not sure which award applies to you, you can use the useful three-step “Find my award” tool.

There are usually three types of employment:

  • full-time employees (an average of 38 ordinary hours per week)
  • part-time employees (an average of fewer than 38 ordinary hours per week)
  • casual employees (the lesser of an average of 38 hours per week or the hours required to be worked by the employer)

Hourly rate

Many backpackers are more comfortable with a guaranteed hourly wage even if it’s minimum wage. This way, you get paid for every single hour spent at work.

As explained above, minimum wage is based on the Horticulture Award 2010 and the Wine Industry Award 2010. This is the absolute minimum an employer can pay you, but you could earn more!

Horticulture Award minimum wages

As of July 1, 2019, hourly minimum wages for part-time, full-time and casual employees are set as follows.

Part-time and full-time employees

20 years old and older 18 years old 19 years old
Hourly weekday rates (before 6 p.m.) $18.93 $15.14 $17.04
Hourly rates for evening and night work (after 6 p.m.) $21.77 $17.41 $19.60
Hourly rates for a public holiday $37.86 $30.28 $34.08

Casual employees

Casual employees get 25% more than full-time and part-time employees because they lack job security.

20 years old and older 18 years old 19 years old
Hourly rate (regardless of the day or the number of hours worked) $23.66 $18.93 $21.30
Hourly rates for a public holiday $42.59 $34.07 $38.34

Wine Industry Award minimum wages

As of July 1, 2019, hourly minimum wages for part-time, full-time and casual employees are set as follows. Note that unlike in the Horticulture Award, there are no junior and adult rates.

Part-time and full-time employees

Hourly weekday daytime wage $19.20
Saturday hourly wage (during harvest time) $24.00
Evening and night (6 p.m. to 8 a.m.) hourly wage$ $22.08
Hourly wage for a public holiday $48.00

Casual employees

Casual employees get 25% more than full-time and part-time employees because they lack job security.

Hourly wage (regardless of the day or the number of hours worked) $24.00
Saturday hourly wage (during harvest time) $28.80
Evening and night (6 p.m. to 8 a.m.) hourly wage $26.88
Hourly wage for a public holiday $52.80

Piece rate jobs

Many fruit picking jobs aren’t paid by the hour but by the quantity of fruit picked. In this case, you’re a “pieceworker” and the money you make depends on the number of kilos collected or buckets or bins filled.

Much like commission-based jobs, piecework pay can be a great deal or a complete financial disaster. Filling a 500-kilo bin is harder than it seems—you have to be fast and efficient if you want to make a decent day’s work. Too slow? Too bad, you may end up making below minimum wage and in this case, it’s legal (but it sucks!). Besides, some employers set piece rates so low that you literally can’t pick or pack enough fruit to earn the minimum wage. This is why this type of pay structure is sometimes blamed for farm worker exploitation.

On the other hand, you could technically make much more than minimum wage if you perform well!

So, how much could I make?

There’s no rule because it depends on how efficient you are, the fruit or vegetables you pick as well as the type of task assigned (colour or size picking, strip picking, etc.). Granted, the compensation offered can seem ridiculously low at first—$30 for a large bin, $3 for a basket, etc.—but it adds up. Give it a try for a few days!

Piece rate isn’t the wild west, the rate is also regulated by the two relevant awards:

  • The piecework agreement between the employer and the individual employee must be in writing and signed by the employer and the employee.
  • The Horticulture Award specifies that “The piecework rate fixed by agreement between the employer and the employee must enable the average competent employee to earn at least 15% more per hour than the minimum hourly rate.” A casual employee should get paid at least $26.49/hour—minimum hourly wage + 15% more as a pieceworker + 25% as a casual employee ($18.93 + $2.83 + $4.73 = $26.49).
  • The Wine Industry Award specifies that “The piecework rate fixed by agreement between the employer and the employee must enable an employee of average capacity to earn at least 20% more per hour than the minimum hourly wage for ordinary hours of work.” A casual employee should get paid at least $27.84/hour—minimum hourly wage + 20% more as a pieceworker + 25% as a casual employee ($19.20 + $3.84 + $4.80 = $26.49).

So in theory, you could make more as a pieceworker than as an hourly wage employee. However, do keep in mind that:

  • Neither award guarantees the minimum wage (unlike in New Zealand). If you’re slow, you can end up making $2/hour!
  • It takes time to reach an “average employee” pay cheque. Let’s face it—you’re probably inexperienced and you don’t have the skills of someone who has been working as a fruit picker for years. It takes a few days to figure things out and weeks, months or even years to master the job and maximize your potential earnings. Piecework rate is best for those who are willing to put time and effort into farm work because you will eventually get better and make more. Don’t give up after a day or two!
  • Don’t hesitate to ask seasoned workers how many bins/buckets they fill per day or how many kilos they collect to set your own goals and see if the piecework rate is set fairly. Ask for tips as well to work better and faster!
  • If you notice most pieceworkers—including experienced farm work employees—don’t make at least 15% or 20% more than minimum wage you can suspect your employer set the piecework rate way too low. You could ask for a piecework raise, contact the Fair Work Ombudsmanor just quit (make sure you take home your last pay cheque!)

If you’re hesitating between an hourly wage job and a piece-work job, try both! After all, that’s why you’re in Australia for—new experiences!

If you’re planning to apply for a second Working Holiday Visa and took a piecework rate job, you could be asked to produce the written agreement signed with your employer. So don’t forget to do things by the book!

When and how do I get paid?

You will generally get paid weekly or after completing a short contract, e.g. if you only work a few days.

You could get paid cash, by cheque or by direct deposit.

Always make sure to keep your payslip because you will need them to claim your superannuation payment and to prove you have completed 3 months of specified work while on your first Working Holiday Visa if you want to apply for a second Working Holiday visa.

Chapter 5 of 11

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2 Comments

Fiston
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Please when it’s time for the application, fruit picking, let me know

Julie
5K 13.7K

Hi, have you read chapter 8?

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