Fruit Picking Jobs in Australia – What, Where, How (and Why!)

Chapter 11: Typical fruit picking horror stories and how to avoid these situations

Published: 11-09-2019



Typical fruit picking horror stories and how to avoid these situations

Farm exploitation issues

Every year, Australian and international media report foreign worker and backpacker abuse on farms. The most common issue is workers paid well below minimum wage and exploited.

In November 2017, a joint study from the University of New South Wales and University of Technology, Sydney surveyed more than 4000 temporary migrants from 107 countries—2392 international students and 1440 backpackers. The published report, Wage Theft in Australia, highlights a third of backpackers earn $12 per hour or less, while a quarter of all international students earn $12 or less. It also found almost half of backpackers make $15 or less in their lowest paid job, and it’s a similar statistic for international students, at 43%. Certain nationalities are particularly vulnerable, especially workers from Asian countries including China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The industry is also riddled with advance-fee scams. For instance, you could be asked to pay a deposit to secure a job or accommodation or pay for tools or a police certificate before you even get the job.

In the most extreme cases, employers take advantage of a casual, seasonal and vulnerable workforce. Stories of passport confiscation, horrid living conditions, harassment and sexual abuse also make headlines—and still, they are sadly underreported.

A few towns are sadly known for worker exploitation and have a terrible reputation. You may want to read the following articles:

Many of the victims are backpackers desperate to complete their 3 months of specified work to apply for a second Working Holiday. Some of them are willing to work well below minimum wage, but beware—your visa application could be rejected because you didn’t earn enough. In 2017, a Scottish backpacker was denied a second Working Holiday Visa because the Australian government assessed her pay was too low for the hours she worked ($98.65/week working 6 days a week!).

If you feel you’re being exploited, you can get free legal help from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), including information and advice about your rights. For instance, horticulture industry workers can review info on pay, piece rate, tax and superannuation, etc. online and get tips on resolving workplace issues. You can also contact the FWO directly to make an inquiry or report an employer anonymously. Complaints are always investigated, you’re not wasting your time! And even if you’re ready to move on, you may be helping future backpackers who are dealing with your former abusive employer. Don’t hesitate to pass along this info to other foreign workers, it’s available in 30 languages.

Tips for a positive fruit picking experience

Be careful when you’re job hunting

  • If the job offer is too good to be true, it’s most likely a scam. Watch out for potential employers who promise short workdays, easy tasks and plenty of money.
  • Avoid accepting job offers from touts who hang out in bus stations and airports. Don’t give money to anyone who claims you’ll get free accommodation and transportation once you accept the job.
  • Don’t reply to an ad when the employer only provides a first name and a cellphone number. Reputable employers use a company name and offer more information.
  • Don’t waste your time if you notice bad feedback online on a prospective employer. Cut your losses if your employer stops paying you, sets the bar way too high, etc.
  • Know who you’re working for. You can ask your employer for his Australian Business Number and for information about your contract (type and length of employment, etc.).

Don’t wait until you’ve run out of funds to look for a job

Don’t spend all your travel funds and assume you can just head to a fruit-picking region, find a job with room and board and save money. This is exactly how backpackers find themselves exploited—a desperate job seeker is more likely to accept terrible working conditions.

On the other hand, if you still have enough savings for a little while when you start looking for a fruit-picking job, you can be more selective and wait for the perfect opportunity.

Manage your money wisely and make sure to go job hunting before you spend your last dollars!

Know what you should be paid

The minimum hourly rate for a fruit picker who is a casual employee working regular daytime hours is $24.36.

Pieceworkers must make sure the agreed pay rate allows the average competent employee to earn at least 15% more per hour than the relevant minimum hourly rate in the award, which works out to be $27.29 for a casual employee. However, you can make much less if you’re slower!

Don’t forget that the piecework agreement between the employer and the individual employee must be in writing and signed by the employer and the employee. If you don’t have a written agreement, you must be paid hourly.

Don’t accept a very low pay rate

Some backpackers are willing to accept outrageous pay rates (as little as $2/hour) in order to complete their 3 months of specified work to apply for a second Working Holiday. We’ve even heard of job seekers paying employers in order to get a fruit picking job!

Don’t. just don’t. You’re not doing anyone a favour. First, you’re putting other backpackers at risk—if many of you are willing to work for $2, employers will get used to disregarding the minimum wage, fair pay rates and the law. This is especially dangerous for local farm workers who simply can’t accept these kinds of working conditions—it’s their full-time job, after all, they can’t afford to work for free! Second, your second Working Holiday Visa application could be denied if you didn’t earn enough.

Keep in mind that employers need casual and seasonal employees—this is why the Australian government encourages backpackers to take a fruit picking job and “rewards” them with a second Working Holiday Visa.

Keep your own work records      

Keep track (on paper or digitally) of your work schedule, hours, place of employment, tasks, etc. If you’re a piece worker, write down the number of bins/baskets filled or other performance data.

Once you get your pay cheque, make sure hours and rates paid align with your own records. Check your pay slips carefully as well!

Don’t leave town without your final pay cheque

Some shady employers are very reluctant to give employees their final payment when they leave—you’ll hear all kinds of excuses. Keep in mind that once you leave town, it will get even harder to get your money. It’s best to deal with the issue in person while you’re still around.

Stay safe

If you meet the employer from hell, remember that:

  • It is illegal for an employer to keep an employee’s passport. Passport confiscation is a big deal. You have every right to go to the police to get in touch with your embassy/consulate.
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace, i.e. any form of unwelcome sexual behaviour that’s offensive, humiliating or intimidating, is illegal. Threats, abuse and general harassment can be an offence. Don’t hesitate to contact the police.

In case of major issues or if you don’t feel safe, contact the police and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Enjoy your Working Holiday Visa experience

Finally, despite these warnings and worst-case scenario tips, relax and don’t expect the worst! Remember that farmers and growers do need employees like you. It’s good to be aware that terrible work conditions are not a myth in the industry but you can also meet great Australian employers who won’t take advantage of you. You should be valued and treated well.

Final tips for completing your 3 months of farm work without stress

If you immediately fall in love with Australia and know you will be applying for a second Working Holiday Visa, don’t wait until the end of your first Working Holiday Visa to complete your 3 months (or 88 days) of farm work. Try to meet the requirement as early as possible during your first 12 months Down Under, this way, you won’t feel forced to accept any job for any employer towards the end of your stay.

It pays to plan ahead. Think about it—the regular harvest season could be compromised because of adverse weather conditions (drought or floods), you may have a hard time finding an acceptable employer, you may be sick and unable to work for a week… anything can happen!

Complete your 3 months early and enjoy the experience instead of stressing out about meeting the requirement.

And so what if you can’t complete your 3 months and stay in Australia for another year? The world is a big place, there are plenty of other WHV destinations waiting for you!

Chapter 11 of 11


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Please when it’s time for the application, fruit picking, let me know

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Hi, have you read chapter 8?

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