Warning to backpackers over middlemen exploitation

by Ray Clancy on January 7, 2015

in Australia Travel, Jobs in Australia

A backpacking holiday around Australia is often a young person’s first experience of the country, but now there are warnings about discrimination.

An investigation is underway into claims that backpackers working as fruit pickers in the state of Victoria were being paid wages as little as 60 cents an hour, way below the minimum wage.


An investigation is underway into claims that backpackers working as fruit pickers were being paid just 60 cents per hour

There are also claims that they were given substandard accommodation and charged extortionate rent by a middleman and some were even subjected to bullying and sexual harassment.

A spokesman for the Fair Work Ombudsman confirmed that a complaint has been made about the situation in Mildura. He also explained that workers picking fruit or vegetables, or pruning should receive at least $21.08 an hour on a casual hourly basis.

“The suggestion’s been put to us that backpackers are being charged up to $150 a week, with reportedly up to 32 people being accommodated in one home and a dozen or so more sleeping in the garage,” said the FWO.

“The allegations that have been put to us include bullying, sexual harassment and ripping them off to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Some of these matters are obviously outside our jurisdiction, but clearly where we identify these matters we do pass them on the appropriate local authorities and that might be the police,” the spokesman added.

The claims also allege that the middleman charged backpackers a $450 fee for finding them a fruit picking job.

A trade union said that farmers often employ young people through agencies and they may not be aware of the exploitation. According to the Australian Workers Union, these type of arrangements are becoming more common.

“I think that’s the large part of the problem. The growers themselves don’t actually know what is happening at the point of payment to the employee,” a spokesman explained.

The ombudsman advises newly arrived young people not to enter into work arrangements with people that meet you at regional airports or bus depots.

“These people will approach you with promises of guaranteed work picking fruit or vegetables and accommodation and transport. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” said the spokesman.

“Also, don’t respond to questionable advertisements where there is only a first name and a mobile phone number provided. Legitimate providers will advertise for workers appropriately,” he added.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is currently running two programmes aimed at protecting the rights of overseas and seasonal workers and ensuring employers, hostel owners and labour hire operators understand and comply with their obligations.

A three year Harvest Trail initiative by the Agency’s Regional Services Team is reviewing compliance within the fruit and vegetable growing industry across Australia as a result of persistent complaints and underpayments in the horticulture sector.

Simultaneously, the Overseas Workers Team is conducting a yearlong review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 Working Holiday visa following a spike in complaints from backpackers over the past three years.


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