SWP workers in Australia want to earn to a higher income but lack the opportunity to do so, according to a Research Fellow.

SWP workers in Australia want to earn to a higher income but lack the opportunity to do so, according to a Research Fellow.

Posted by : Frank Short Posted on : 14-Apr-2021

In a piece in today’s Solomon Times Online, Richard Curtain. a Research Fellow at the Australian National University, is mentioned as having contributed a Blog that was published recently on Devpolicy Blog (devpolicy.org) at the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University.

Mr. Curtain’s Blog said.


A factor threatening the viability of the SWP (in Australia), despite the widespread shortages of harvest workers, is the limited hours of work offered to many SWP workers. The effect of the 2019 change to the Horticulture Award requiring growers to pay overtime is that many growers are only offering SWP workers an average of 38 hours per week. These growers cannot afford to pay the overtime rate for a casual worker which is $43.40 per hour, based on 175 per cent of the ordinary casual hourly rate.

Before this change to the award, SWP workers could expect to work up to 45 or more hours per week. SWP workers, especially return workers, were used to working long hours at the peak of the harvest time to earn good money. So they are now frustrated at being told they cannot work beyond 38 hours per week.
To find out more about the effect on SWP workers, I have analysed a national survey by Growcom of 406 growers conducted between August 2019 and June 2020.

Of those who responded, 118 growers employed workers under an Enterprise Agreement and 288 growers employed workers under the Horticulture Award. Responses from 280 growers showed that before the award changes, 91 per cent of growers paid casual workers for working more than 38 hours per week. After the award changes, only 15 per cent of growers were paying casual workers to work more than 38 hours per week. The overall average hours worked by casual workers went from 45.3 hours to 35.8 hours per week, a difference of 9.5 hours per week.

The difference in the average hours worked now compared with the average worked previously shows that casual workers lost an average of $235 per week, based on $24.80 per hour. This is 20 per cent of the gross income they earned on average before the award changes were introduced. In addition, SWP workers often have high accommodation costs due to SWP requirements. The result is that many SWP workers are being lured by unregistered labour contractors and growers to work illegally by offering more work hours, without tax (cash in hand) and cheaper accommodation.

Fortunately, no decision has yet been made on regularisation of undocumented workers. It is not easy to see how the overtime restriction can be wound back, but an exemption could be made for harvest time. One further choice facing the government – the union-backed proposal to require piecework to include a minimum rate of pay – is relevant to outcomes here. I will turn to this in my forthcoming article. 

End of quote.


There were actually two parts to Mr. Curtain’s Blog and only the second part is quote here.

In the part that I have not quoted, Mr. Curtain started that portion of his Blog by saying,

Several factors are threatening the viability of the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP). These include the call for illegal workers in horticulture to be given the right to work via an amnesty, and the effect of the requirement for growers to pay workers overtime.”

Yours sincerely

Frank Short


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