FARMERS affected by drought have won a historic ruling after the Australian Fair Pay Commision (AFPC) formally recognised the extenuating circumstances farmers have faced.
In an unprecedented decision last week, the National Farmers¹ Federation (NFF) won an automatic deferral of this financial year¹s wage increases.
The NFF has been fighting for wage recognition for exceptional circumstances for more than 20 years.
Last week¹s deferral for all farmers in receipt of an Excep-tional Circumstances (EC) Interest Rate Subsidy due to drought will stand for 12 months.
It is expected to apply to 21,000 farmers nationwide.
There are currently five active EC declarations in WA ‹Southern Pastoral year one, Southern Pastoral B, north eastern Wheat-belt year two, north eastern Wheatbelt year three and north eastern Wheatbelt B year one.
The declarations encompass about 320 farms and pastoral businesses.
According to the Agriculture Department, 147 rate subsidy applications have been received, with 44 approvals, 16 declines, 30 in assessment and 57 waiting further information.
NFF president David Crombie said while the economy as a whole had been travelling relativ-ely well, the AFPC needed to take into consideration the dire consequences of drought for regional Australia.
³The ability of farmers to defer the wage increases for 12 months is significant, particularly for those farmers looking to re-employ at what we hope for many is the beginning of the drought recovery process,² Mr Crombie said.
³The NFF successfully argued that any cost increase to the farming sector at this crucial time would result in extreme financial difficulties.
³It would hurt farmers already in difficulty and seriously dampen current employment levels, let alone new job prospects as the drought eases.î
Mr Crombie acknowledged the decision was simply a deferral for 12 months and the wage increases announced last week would come into affect for farmers after that period.
³But the extra time will be a significant boost to the rural economy and help farmers to emerge from drought with stronger and more vibrant businesses,² he said.
Mr Crombie believed the $10.26 per week average wage increase that would apply to those farmers not in receipt of an EC interest rate subsidy was moderate and reasonable under the circumstances.
He said all aspects of the AFPC¹s decision would now flow-on to the Australian Industrial Relations Commis-sion¹s (AIRC¹s) transitional awards, which cover most Aus-tralian farmers.
Meanwhile, Employment Protection Minister Michelle Roberts claimed Western Australians employed under the federal system would be worse off than their counterparts in the state system as a result of the AFPC¹s decision.
Mrs Roberts said she was disappointed the minimum wage increase of $10.26 per week would mean Western Australians employed under the federal system would earn $522.12 a week from October 1.
³This increase of 2pc is less than inflation in WA, meaning that these workers are in reality suffering a wage cut,² she said.
³Minimum wage workers in the WA system have been earning $528.40 a week since July 1.
³This means that over the course of the next 12 months, minimum wage earners in the WA system will get $460 more than minimum wage earners in the federal system.
³This real wage decrease means vulnerable workers are worse off.²
Mrs Roberts did welcome the announcement by the AFPC that in future an annual wage review would be undertaken.
³This acknowledges that an annual review is essential for maintaining fairness for minimum wage workers,² she said.