Go Study Australia

Hidden Dangers to Be Aware of When Finding Farm Work in Australia

There’s a moment almost all backpackers in Australia share, realisation strikes and it becomes clear that the 1 year working holiday visa just isn’t enough time. When this moment comes there are a plethora of options for travellers to considered, but the most heavily tracked path is to complete the 88 days of specified work that qualifies both 417 and 462 WHV holders for a second year.

The route to 88 days can be trickier than many anticipate, a jungle of misrepresentation and exploitation. Hopefully we  can help shine some light on this process, that Fair Work Ombudsman of Australia describes working holiday visa holders as being “especially vulnerable to occurrences of Modern Slavery and the exploitation of migrant workers”. The full report was published in October 2016, highlighting their concerns about the exploitation of 417 visa holders, including instances of:

  • Underpayment and / or non-payment of wages;
  • Visa Holders offering (or being forced to offer) payment to employers for assistance to gain a second year works rights visa;
  • Sexual harassment and workplace health and safety issues;
  • Employers recruiting workers with the offer of unpaid work to meet the second year visa eligibility requirements;
  • Visa holders working for free in exchange for non-certified accommodation programs.

A copy of the ‘Inquiry into the wages and conditions of people working under the 417 Working Holiday Visa Program’ can be found at:
www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/access-accountability-and-reporting/inquiry-reports

We recommend reading the report for yourself, there have been many toe curling stories that have surfaced over the last decade this is what not to do when choosing your farm work.

Piece Rate Work

This work refers to the payment scheme used by many farms, paying workers by the weight of product they pick. Make no mistake some workers make great money, however the majority struggle.  Farmers regularly skew the system, so only the top 25% of workers make minimum wage. This top 25% of workers are rarely backpackers and almost always experienced pickers who have made careers out of picking fruit. Be honest with yourselves, do you think you’re going to be faster than a 35 year old person from Tonga (who are usually very strong people) with 20 years experience? Because thats the benchmark, you may find yourself earning less than $15 an hour, I’ve personally witnessed backpackers regularly making less than $40 for a full days work in 35 degree sun.

There are health and safety issues that are a seen time and time again, backpackers short on money push themselves to exhaustion just to pick one more bin of apples or bucket of grapes. Personally I’ve seen a young man trip and fall onto his grape shears slicing open his neck, a girl get her leg crushed by a reversing tractor and countless minor injuries from ladder falls. The truth is all farms have an element of danger to them, but the pressure piece-rate work puts on the worker to move quickly increases the risk.

Another factor to consider is that piece-rate work is outside 99% of the time and work relies on the weather. If it rains you’re not working, fruits not ripe? You’re not working. Harvests are unpredictable and work is not evenly spread. Piece–rate work will get you days eventually, but its unlikely to make you much money and often 3 months turn into 5 months.

Labour Hire Companies

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman Harvest Trail Report 51% of producers in rural Australia use labour hire to some extent, this involves a scheme where the producer pays the owner of the labour hire company for the work completed, who then passes on a cut of the earnings to his workers. Interestingly very few contractors are actually Australian, 40% are on either student visas or WHV, something we find extremely depressing.

These contractors are some of the most unscrupulous managers we have came across, set up often with the sole money making purpose of taking advantage of backpackers. Often they cloak themselves behind difficult to track social media profiles and rarely show themselves at the place of work, according to the harvest trail report backpackers are usually unaware of who their contractor actually is, being provided with just a first name and a phone number. This makes exploitation easy, by the time the authorities are made aware the contractor has long disappeared. Examples of their practices include:

  • Fake payslips produced as they avoid taxation
  • Fake superannuation funds, 9% of the workers wage goes straight into their offshore account rather than into a real fund
  • Illegal underpayment of wages

Avoid Labour Hire Contractors wherever possible, especially when they are involved with piece rate work.

Some Encouragement

The Australian Government is now hyper-aware of these issues and over the last 3 years it has began to clamp down, prosecuting 100s of companies and recovering millions of dollars in underpayments. There are better options out there: fruit picking is not the only job under the specified work regulation, from construction to factory work there are safer, better paid options available. 

Our friends at the The 88th Day are solely focused on providing a smoother, safer path to a second year visa but we are just a drop in the ocean and other options must be considered. They are a working holiday job service that can help you find safe and compliant regional work (if that’s an option you want to explore)

You can also approach Farms, Factories and other firms directly, often the recruitment techniques used here are predictably old fashioned, there is nothing stopping you walking your CV round to reception. Ask your fellow travellers who have completed their specified work where to go, use their knowledge to your advantage.

Take a Different Path

Extending your working holiday via is not the only solution, you don’t have to put yourself through 88 days of craziness to stay in Australia.   Thousands of people decide they would rather extend their experience using and Australian Student Visa. The student visa has so many advantaged

  • Its Cheap (only $600)
  • You can work while you study, with the same company for as long as your visa lasts (WHV only allows you to stay with 1 company for 6 months)
  • You can find cheap, flexible courses (ask us how)
  • You can gain vital skills to build your career
  • You can get a visa lasting for many years (even 5 years +)

Contact us at Go Study to discuss your options if farm work is not for you