Farmers are being reminded their casual, part time and full time farm workers were due a payrise from 1 July this year, under Fair Work Australia rules governing on-farm employment conditions.
Employment law expert Jane Blackburn, of Maddens Lawyers, explained that a mandatory payrise for farm employees was part of the Pastoral Award 2010, a Federal Award covering all farm employees. The Award automatically updates pay rates on 1 July every year, with pay determined by employee’s experience, qualifications and responsibilities.
“The saying is that nothing in life is certain, bar death and taxes… and you can add to that an increase in award pay rates,” Ms Blackburn said. “But it’s not something farmers can be flippant about. The scope of the Award is broad, the classifications it outlines are complex, the requirement to comply is absolute and the impact of not complying can be very expensive.”
Ms Blackburn explained the annual wage increase was set by the Fair Work Commission, and applied to a huge range of employees and farming enterprises. “Workers on a dairy farm. A piggery. Cattle or sheep. A cropping enterprise. Even beekeeping. It’s diverse and wide-reaching.
“Adding to this is that the classifications that determine what a worker is paid can also be quite prescriptive; they address an employee’s experience and qualification, but also what they do on the farm, if they provide any of their own equipment; even whether they have their own horse, or dog.
“The rates are based on a 38-hour-week average – and mandate that any hours over this must be paid as overtime. Part time or casual workers must be paid for shifts of at least three hours, even if they only work one or two and casuals must be paid loading.
“These are the areas where we continually see farmers caught out. And almost every time, the farmers think they are managing it by-the-book. It’s an indication of how complex the award is, rather than a reflection on how diligent local farmers are.”
Ms Blackburn said the onus on knowing and paying the correct wage rate always fell on the employer. And if classifications and pay rates weren’t up to date, any shortfall had to be met via back-payments, even if underpayment was unintentional.
“Farmers need to be careful they are complying at all times… because a lump sum back-payment is a harsh reality, and can’t be avoided. It doesn’t even matter if underpayment was accidental, or inadvertent. If the matter is taken to court, penalties can also be imposed on top of any back-payments.”
Having worked with many farmers over the past six years to ensure they were compliant and across the complex requirements of the Award, Ms Blackburn urged operators to consult with an experienced advisor to ensure they had their staff payments in-hand.
“Employers must be up to date on the current classification of their employees, and keep in mind this classification can change at any time, due to the employee’s past experience, or tenure in the industry. Even if the employee is still doing exactly the same as what they were doing the day or the week before; it’s not that the Award moves the goalposts. It’s that there is a lot of them, and it can be hard to know which ones to look for.
“Getting another perspective can be the difference between compliance – and peace of mind – and non-compliance, backpayments and a hefty fine.”
Looking for more information? Speak to Jane Blackburn, Maddens Lawyers’ Employment Law expert.
Debt recovery – how to regain what’s rightfully yours
By Jane Blackburn, Commercial Litigation Lawyer
Avoiding the recovery of a business debt is like giving your money away to someone who hasn’t earned it.
Obtaining money you are owed is something a business owner can rarely afford to ignore. It’s your money. You earned it. You deserve it. And chances are you need it.
But it’s rarely as straight forward as simply asking for the debt to be paid. There are only so many (often ignored) phone calls you can make. And many of us were raised to think it’s bad manners to even talk about money, let alone ask for it.
However, that awkwardness of having to ask for what is rightfully yours should not prevent you from doing so. Getting someone else experienced in this process to help you do it can help make it less unpleasant – and more successful.
Engaging a lawyer’s help to recover debt does NOT have to be an expensive process. For starters, there’s a good chance you will get what you are owed – and therefore end up in a better position than when you started.
But it’s also worth considering for the peace of mind; not unlike the saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.
Recovering a business debt is, to a lawyer, a fairly black and white process. The steps we would typically follow to recover a business debt are as follows:
- We gather all the information
First, we review the paperwork. We need to be sure you’ve got a legal right to chase down this missing money. We want to verify the amount that is owed and that the debt is now overdue, based on your trading terms. We are also keen to see if there’s a dispute about how much is owed, or there’s already been a payment arrangement made.
- We’ll send a letter
We will draft and send a letter of demand, giving the non-paying business (we call them a ‘debtor’), a short period of time to make the payment. Seven to 14 days is standard.
- Serve a statutory demand
If your debt is over $2,000 and there is still no response, then we will serve a Statutory Demand on your behalf. This is a demand in accordance with the Corporations Act. It gives the debtor 21 days to pay. If payment is not made, or if you don’t reach a payment arrangement you are happy with, then the business that owes the money is deemed to have breached that statutory demand. That means that you, as the business owed the money, can commence wind-up proceedings of the business that is in debt.
- Wind-up Proceedings commence; company is in insolvency
This is a last resort. And one that can only be done with the help of a lawyer. We always aim to have the issue solved before we reach this point. But on occasion, it’s a necessary step we need to take. If that’s the case with your situation, rest assured we will work through this with you to make sure it runs as it should.
Like everything, there ARE exceptions to rules. For example, the process outlined here is followed when a company owes you money. It does not apply if the debtor is an individual – such as a person, partnership, sole trader, or any other operation that doesn’t have an ACN. That’s a different process altogether – and one we can discuss another day.
It’s also a different process if your debt is less than $2,000. There’s no statutory demand or wind-up proceedings – but there are still ways the court can help you secure what you are owed. Once again, it’s still worth getting help to recover your money.
What’s important to remember is that debt recovery is like mending something after it has been broken. Think about what you can – and should – put in place at the beginning of a business relationship, to ensure you have the best chance of recovering any debts if and when the unthinkable happens and a business doesn’t pay. Getting expert help is a good way to ensure the best possible outcome, even before you start doing business.
Contact Jane Blackburn to discuss what you can do about recovering a business debt, or phone Maddens Lawyers on 1800 815 228.