Seasonal farm work

‘Seasonal work’ refers to work that is done on a temporary basis and often occurs in line with seasonal changes in Australia. 

Most of this fact sheet is about seasonal work on and around farms in Australia i.e. horticulture. This work is seasonal because it happens around planting and harvesting cycles and so employers often hire workers on a temporary basis.  

This fact sheet provides information on basic work rights for people on the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program and the Pacific Australia Mobility Labour (PALM) scheme working in agriculture.

You have work rights and employers can’t ignore them

For information about the Horticulture Award in languages other than English, check out the fact sheets from the Migrant Workers Centre

Before going any further, double check to see whether you are covered by the Horticulture Award.  

The Horticulture Award covers you if you’re working with crops (with some exceptions such as sugar and cotton). It doesn’t just cover pickers – you can be a sorter or packer, doing inventory or driving a lorry or harvester, and still be covered by this Award. 

If you’re not sure, your employment contract will likely say which Award you are under. If not, contact your union or the Australian Unions Support Centre to find out.

  • The minimum you can be paid under the Horticulture Award is $20.33 per hour.  
  • For casual workers, it’s $25.21 per hour. 
  • If your payment is in piece rates, it must still be higher than the $20.33 minimum wage.  

When you are paid in ‘piece rates’ you are paid for how much work you do instead of per hour. For example, it is common for fruit pickers to be paid per basket or bucket of fruit.

You can be paid solely in piece rates or sometimes you can be paid in both piece rates and hourly rates.

Before you start being paid with piece rates, there must be a signed record between you and your employer. That record must include:

  • The date from which you will start being paid in piece rates 
  • The tasks for which the piece rates will be paid 
  • The minimum hourly rate for your classification level* 
  • The piece rate amount.

*Note that the minimum wages in the section above are at the lowest classification level. If you are on a higher classification level, you will be entitled to a higher minimum wage.

For each day or shift, you must get:

  • One paid 10-minute break 
  • An unpaid meal break if you are required to work more than five hours in a day. The break is between 30 minutes to an hour.  
  • 10 hours break between the end of one workday (or shift) and the start of a new one. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Your employer has to look after your safety at work. On hot days (around 30 degrees and higher), if they don’t call off work then they must provide more and/or longer rest breaks and give you water.

If you work either growing or processing wine grapes, you are most likely covered by the Wine Award. 

Check your employment contract to make sure that is the correct Award for your job. Otherwise, contact your union or the Australian Unions Support Centre 

For any questions that haven’t been answered with this fact sheet, contact your union or give the Australian Unions Support Centre a call. Your union can also get a translator for you if you need one. 

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Cover photo credit: James Dimas on Unsplash

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