Wholesaler-representative body Fresh Markets Australia (FMA) has welcomed a report released by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) into the key issues surrounding the Horticulture Code of Conduct.
The ACCC released the report ‘Perspectives in horticulture and viticulture’ on 27 October, which outlines the key concerns raised by the industry about the Code, including the timing of payments to growers, the imbalance of bargaining power, the influence of major retailers and the ineffectiveness of the Code.
“It is clear that the Horticulture Code is not achieving its aims and we believe that significant changes to the Code are required,” ACCC deputy chair Michael Schaper said. “The Code needs to have greater coverage, through the inclusion of pre-2006 agreements, and penalties and infringement notices should be available for breaches of the Code to encourage widespread compliance.”
The ACCC said it would advocate for changes to the Code, including making penalties available for breaches; working with the industry on education about the Code; promoting the benefits of collective bargaining; and exploring the development of an app for anonymous claims to be provided to the ACCC.
FMA has responded to the report, saying it shares the concerns outlined by the ACCC, with chairman Shane Schnitzler stating that the Code is inflexible, uncommercial and largely unworkable.
Schnitzler said while FMA agreed that documented terms of trade are important – one of the key requirements of the Code – the changes proposed by the ACCC presented some challenges.
“It is illogical for anyone reviewing the Code to be critical of these pre-Code agreements given the unworkable alternative which exists and given that in any event, a grower could tear up the agreement at any time,” Schnitzler said.
FMA has also disagreed with the ACCC’s recommendation that financial penalties be introduced for breaches of contracts, but Schnitzler added he was committed to working with the Australian government and ACCC to improve the Code for fairer and more workable Code for the horticulture industry.
One issue raised during the review process was growers’ fear of retribution if they did lodge a complaint about unfair terms of trade.
Schnitzler said that while FMA doesn’t condone heavy-handed tactics within the central market system, he said growers shouldn’t continue to send produce tog rowers they’re not happy doing business with.
“There are more than 400 central market wholesalers in six Central Markets across Australia for the grower to choose from so options do exist,” Schnitzler said.