RFID tagged to bear fruit in productivity stakes

WF Montague Cold Storage will use RFID-enabled wristbands to monitor the productivity of workers in a newly built preparation area.

Monitoring will begin in November this year, the start of the stone fruit picking season.

Montague Cold Storage is the processing arm of Montague Fresh Orchards based in Victoria and the NSW Snowy Mountains.

The company conducted a pilot trial with 12 employees last season using the RFID-enabled tracking system.

When the system is live it will analyze the activity of each worker assessing performance levels, and identifying bottlenecks in the supply chain.

While the goal is increased productivity and efficiency, the company said the tags will not be used to monitor the number of breaks taken by staff in any given shift.

Patrick Leckning, information services manager for WF Montague, said the tags, currently used as a form of employee identification, will be used only in the stock preparation area and the staff are well aware they are being tracked.

"The staff will be using RFID-enabled wristbands and they do know [the tracking] is being done," Leckning confirmed this week.

"Their names are entered into our database and the wristband is matched to them. As the reader (at the end of the production line) detects the bands it makes an entry into the database to say who they are...it is all pretty seamless.

"Our stone fruit line at Narre Warren (38km south-east of Melbourne) will have a proprietary RFID reader at the end of the production line so we can know the activity of each worker - such as how well they are performing; it will also enable traffic management and bottlenecks. In a supply chain the benefits of RFID not only come from the retail sector, but in managing the total supply chain all the way through."

Leckning is yet to investigate occupational health and safety issues surrounding use of the tags.

WF Montague human resources manager, Evan Bain said the "wristwatch" tags are used for labelling and traceability.

He said simple brushing of the wrist band against a scanner confirms when individual items or boxes of fruit are packed.

"The system is not used to track back for discipline purposes. It does labelling and identifies who has done the packing and labelling, so we can know how many boxes, trays or whatever someone has done," Bain said.

"The system might be used to identify people who need extra training, say, if one particular person packed 15 boxes of fruit and another packed five, we have identified a problem on the line and can act accordingly.

"It only identifies the person who has packed which box and how many."

Anna Johnston, chair of the Australian Privacy Foundation, said analyzing productivity on a shop floor will have a negative impact on employee health and safety. She said the problem could be made worse if staff are discriminated against when they are actually working to the best of their ability. w

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