There is a longstanding and important legal principle that requires the accuser to prove guilt, and not the accused to prove their innocence.
Without this burden of proof resting with the accuser, the legal system would be swamped with vexatious and unsubstantiated claims, with justice the loser.
Last week the Fair Work Commission sided with the union appeal in its decision to insert a pay floor into the piece-rate provisions within the Horticulture Award.
In our submission in response to the Commission's draft determination issued last December we put forward the view that in their application to change the Award, the unions hadn't submitted the types and levels of evidence of widespread abuse of piece-rate provisions that would meet the Commission's own standards of evidence.
The Commission addressed and dismissed our view in its final decision. We respectfully remain unconvinced.
The Harvest Trail Inquiry report published by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) in 2018 remains our most authoritative source on workplace practices in horticulture. But the FWO itself makes no claims to have attempted through its investigations to have captured a representative and random sample of employers.
From this sample the FWO found 55 per cent of employers were non-compliant with workplace law, including incomplete paperwork, and on this basis stated there was "widespread non-compliance" in horticulture with the law.
Given the sample, this statement could be considered a bit of a stretch.
But with no better evidence to draw on, we're left to assume it's based on this report and statement that commentators, including journalists, have accused our industry not just of widespread non-compliance but of rampant abuse.
Rightly or wrongly, it appears the burden of proof has been reversed for the horticulture industry with regard our employment practice.
It is disappointing that the many good employers should need to proactively prove their ethics in order to redeem the reputation of an industry that's been damaged by a few. But that is where we find ourselves.
In response to the FWO Harvest Trail report Growcom launched Fair Farms, an industry-led initiative aimed at fostering fair and responsible employment practices in Australian horticulture.
We now need every good employer in Australian horticulture to get behind Fair Farms. The defence of our reputation is going to require a contribution from everyone.
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