There have been 52 enquiries received since the beginning of the contract period between The Accord Group and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). Of these, 13 enquiries were in relation to the introduction of the Horticulture Code of Conduct and are therefore not considered to be disputes registered with the Produce and Grocery Industry Ombudsman (PGIO). These 13 enquiries were referred to DAFF. The PGIO has therefore received 39 notifications of dispute (enquiries).
In regards to these 39 disputes it has been the philosophy of the PGIO to attempt facilitation before an application for mediation is received. We have found that by bringing the respondentís attention to the complaint received and allowing them a set period of time in order to negotiate directly, the majority of matters have been settled prior to the receipt of an application fee.
For each enquiry received, our office has forwarded an information pack to the enquirer and explained our role as PGIO. 14 enquirers have required the PGIO to take their matter further and to contact the other party to inform them of an issue being raised with the PGIO and to encourage direct negotiation within a set period. 6 of these 14 enquiries have proceeded to request mediation. Of the other 8 there has been no further action taken and in some cases we have received positive feedback of resolution being reached.
6 application fees have been received. There have been no application fees waived. These 6 application fees comprise the 4 enquirers for whom initial facilitation attempts were not successful and therefore led to mediation requests. The additional 2 requests did not go through an enquiry stage in which facilitation attempts were requested. Of these 6 applications, 1 complainant withdrew their application after further negotiation with the respondent, while the remaining 5 have had mediators appointed by the PGIO.
Of the 5 mediation appointments, 1 has been successfully mediated and a further 3 are in the process of determining a date and time for mediation. The remaining mediation has not proceeded as the respondent declined to answer any form of contact attempted by the mediator. It is believed that the respondent/wholesaler has now ceased trading and is working for another wholesale company.
The success rate of the PGIOís facilitative approach to disputes within this industry is encouraging. Given the low level of mediation applications and the positive feedback received, it would seem that this approach is working well within the produce and grocery industry.
We have not perceived there to be any problem with the operation or effectiveness of the Code. There is the potential for concern in a respondentís reluctance to mediate with a complainant or in delayed response to a mediator making contact with a respondent. However, these issues are partly addressed through the Horticulture Code and it will be interesting to follow the progress that this new Code makes in addressing such concerns.
Recent telephone enquiries indicate that the industry is quite well informed of the existence of the new mandatory Code. Awareness of the voluntary Code is perhaps less widely spread but has been well received as an option by enquirers.
In addition, through their associations with various industry groups, industry participants seem to be increasingly informed of the role of the PGIO. Representative bodies that contact our office are given our information pack so that it can be distributed to those that may require information on resolving disputes.
There does not seem to be any emerging trend or issue at this point in time and it will be interesting to note any changes in the type and level of enquiries once the mandatory Code has been in place for a longer period of time. At this stage it does seem that the industry is more concerned with implementing the changes that the mandatory Code has introduced, rather than using either the voluntary or mandatory Code for dispute resolution.