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 Yarra Valley growers could face higher wage bills with new Horticultural Award rates now in effect.

The Fair Work Commission’s new regulations mean that from Sunday 1 July, seasonal staff were for the first time entitled to overtime pay and night loading.

It’s been dubbed one of the biggest changes for farmers in Australia for some time, but could lead to technology advances.

Tony Hickey, partner at regional advisory firm Crowe Horwath, said the changes would require businesses to carefully plan their casual employment to ensure they were compliant with the award conditions.

“Ignoring these changes will potentially disadvantage both business owners and their employees,” he said.

“Preparing for these changes should be a top priority for any horticultural business that uses significant casual labour resources.”

He said 80 per cent of farms needed the support of casual staff during peak periods.

Andrew Lai, director of Australia’s first Agtech Accelerator SproutX, said that increasing labour costs provided further incentive for agribusinesses to adopt new technology to increase efficiency.

“Australia is already a world-leader in ag innovation and this change will help to drive a further adoption of on-farm technology,” he said.

AUSVEG, the prescribed peak industry body for the Australian vegetable and potato industries, said in May that the changes would significantly increase growers’ costs and force growers to look at alternative employment arrangements.

AUSVEG said the move did not address the seasonality of many businesses, or the location and climate situations which many growers faced, such as picking through the night to avoid the heat of the day.

The body said it was working with the National Farmer’s Federation (NFF) to investigate other options to help mitigate the impact the decision will have on growers moving forward, such as employee share arrangements, enterprise bargaining agreements and others.

Will these changes impact your business? Email editor@mailnewsgroup.com.au.

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