Aussie kids enjoy farm slavery

Via the ABC:

As soon as it became clear COVID-19 was going to wreak havoc, most backpackers hastily left Australia and made their way back home.

Fearing the nation’s fresh produce would be left to rot, the Federal Government and agriculture bodies lobbied young Australians to take up farming jobs instead.

Some farmers flaunted attractive wage figures, saying it was possible to make $3,000 per week, while Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told teens regional work might make for interesting Instagram content, and even lead to finding “the love of your life”.

These Australians gave it a go.

Here’s how they went.

Work ‘enjoyable’ but hard

Nineteen-year-old Matthew Rolston bought a bus ticket from Hobart to northern Tasmania and had the full backpacker experience — even staying in a hostel.

His first ever fruit-picking job was “actually rather enjoyable” at first.

“You definitely get a certain appreciation for people who do it day in and day out,” he said.

Not in the least because farm work can be physically demanding.

“I kind of went through half a bottle of water, realised there was nowhere to fill it up and had to ration half a bottle of water for the rest of the day,” he said.

In the state’s south, 14-year-old Chloe has just taken up her first ever job folding cherry boxes.

“Now that I was old enough to come to work, I decided I probably should earn a bit of money to keep me going thought the year,” she said.

Being on her feet all day and the heat of the packing shed can make for a challenging workplace, but Chloe has loved it.

“Yesterday I did 29,000 steps and that was 12 hours of work. I was ready for the end of the day,” she said.

Hostels cost more than wages earned

Things on the farm ended “rather sourly” for Mr Rolston when his wages for six 10-hour working days came through — three weeks after he first started.

“And then, when we did end up getting paid, we didn’t get the full amount,” he said.

“I was supposed to earn around $550, I ended up getting $450.

“There was no way that we’d be making over a $1,000.”

His friend Luka Wighton, who also worked on the farm, said he had gone along hoping for “a bit of an adventure” — but ended up feeling “a little bit taken advantage of”.

“It was exhausting work … I mean, I’d be fine with it, if it was more pay, but we were kind of at a loss,” he said.

His $280 wage — paid on piece-rate agreement — meant he paid more for his accommodation at the hostel than he earned, as did Mr Rolston.

“I didn’t expect to make much money, but I thought I’d go back with a little bit of a profit,” Mr Wighton said.

Chloe said she gets paid hourly and that her rate was about $14.

‘It was the opposite of Instagram-famous’

Speaking to the Regional Australia Institute in September, Mr McCormack said anyone “lounging around with a surfboard” on the coast should come to the regions.

“Tell them to bring their mobile with them, because it would be a great Instagram moment for them to get up the tree, pick some fruit,” he said.

Far from lapping up social media “likes”, Mr Rolston said reaching for his phone would have cost him a job.

“Use of the phones while we were working was actually prohibited. We got told not to have our phones out while we were working,” he said.

“I got told that if I had my phone out, I’d be fired.

“It was the opposite of Instagram-famous, it was don’t touch the phone kind of thing.”

Chloe said her hands have been too full with work to snap photos.

“I’ve been too busy to get my phone out,” she said.

No ‘love of their life’ found but plenty of friends

Mr McCormack also flagged the potential for making new friends or finding “the love of their life” while on regional work quest.

Mr Rolston said that while love proved difficult to find, he and Mr Whighton made “tons of new friends” from all over the world while staying at their hostel.

“I can’t really complain about that. I did meet some pretty cool people,” Mr Rolston said.

“That was really good to get an insight into their own lives as well and hang out.”

Chloe said she would take away something extra — a work ethic.

“I’ve made lots of new friends and the idea of knowing what actual work is because before I thought it wasn’t as hard as it actually is,” she said.

Hundred-question application to pick cherries

For many, the enthusiasm was there, but the offers weren’t.

Jodie* was hesitant to share her tale of rejection under her real name.

She applied for at least 10 farm jobs through employment marketplace Seek, the Government’s The Harvest Trail job board, Gumtree, social media and Agri Labour Australia — but didn’t manage to lock in anything.

“I figured, I’ll turn up in my work boots and my hat and I’ll just go to work,” she said.

“But there’s not even that option because they’re not interested.”

At times she said felt employers “danced around” the wage topic, tried to make the job sound “as unappealing as possible” or made “unreasonable” requests.

She missed out on a job that would have required her to work 12-hour days, seven days a week.

“I was like, I could do five 12-hour days a week, but I couldn’t do seven,” she said.

On another occasion, she was asked to fill out a 100-question questionnaire for a job picking cherries.

“I’m answering them all and tapping them on my phone, going, ‘this is to pick berries’,” she said.

She said she was starting to think some farmers might prefer migrant workers to Australians because they would be less likely to complain about small wages.

“I feel like they don’t have the same sort of legal requirements around wages,” she said.

“I know a lot of them live on site and [employers] charge them accommodation and all that sort of stuff.”

‘You take out what you put in’

Fruit Growers Tasmania CEO Peter Cornish “completely rejects” the wage exploitation suggestion.

“Absolutely there’d be a preference to support locals and our local people, but really it’s for those people who are coming along and who are productive and want to give it a go, they’re the ones our growers want, wherever they come from,” he said.

He said locals might find seasonal work less appealing because it was just that — seasonal.

Of wages, he said average pickers on piece rate should be able to earn “15 per cent more than what you can on hourly rate”.

Cherry grower Howard Hansen — who at the peak season employs about 450 people — agreed.

“Fruit picking’s all done on piece work so you’re paid based on your productivity,” he said.

“You’re not expected to come and sit under a tree and earn good money. You work hard for a fair day’s pay.

“We tend to find that motivated people do really, really well — but you take out what you put in.”

And this year, it does appear that more locals have decided to put in the work.

“We won’t really know until the season keeps progressing, but we have a lot more people involved, and I think the suggestion that we may be having a doubling of locals involved is probably about right,” Mr Cornish said.

“We certainly saw a lot more interest … we had a lot more people take [it] up.”

The Department of Agriculture would not say how successful Mr McCormack’s campaigning had been, or what the farm employers and workers thought of it.

However, it said the Government was encouraging Australians to assist with agricultural harvests and recognised the challenges people had when doing farm work.

“We are investing $17.4 million in relocation assistance and $16.3 million to incentivise young Australians to take up farm work by temporarily changing Youth Allowance (student) and ABSTUDY independence eligibility criteria,” a department spokesperson said.

Why does the ABC work so hard to include lobbyist’s spin in every article? We know it’s organised slavery.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


    • Well it will not be long before fruit picking jobs are automated. What happens when conveyor belt is put around a orchard and Drones with mechanical hands and camera/sensors pick the right fruit and drop them in the basket on the conveyor Belt, that goes gets pushed into a shed for final sorting and small packaging. 5G will improve co-ordination big time too.
      Anecdote: I was in India until recently stuck there due to international flight restrictions. I put this idea to a friend there. He told me that there seems to be a machine (In India) that can pick coconuts.

      I could be wrong here but, am expecting that in 5 to 10 years from now, as pressure increases on farmers to pay more and hire local people, they will automate the entire process or an company with the right equipment will offer the farmers automated fruit picking for a fee.

  1. I would like to know what percentage of all the piece rate workers they ever employed managed to earn more than the hourly rate, I’d put money on it being in single figures.

      • +100 I’ve actually investigated this very issue myself; legally the piece rate has to be set by the employer at a level that the AVERAGE ADULT worker at least earns the minimum hourly casual wage + a loading factor of 15%. For fruit picking that means the average de-facto casual hourly wage then would be about AUD 26/hr. Every employer knows how much their average adult workers pick per hour, so they can easily calculate the required piece rate.

        However in reality, most piece-rates are set to a level where the most committed hard working worker can only earn about AUD 15-20 per hr. But before an new casual worker starts, he first has to sign a declaration in which he/she acknowledges that the piece rate is set to reflect the average adult workers minimum wage (which is impossible for the new worker to know beforehand !). So the employers intentionally set a piece-rate that is way too low, and new workers are coerced to declare something they cannot possibly know and which is false.

        Voila ! – and all that apart from the issue where the employers is trying to take back as much of the wages possible by only hiring workers that ALSO rent their overpriced farm accommodation.

  2. Display NameMEMBER

    So Matthew Rolston was alleging he did 6 x 10 hour days for $450? Doesn’t sound right.

    I used to brickie labour 1982/4 and got $110a day in the hand (cash no tax) back then. These were (only) 9 back breaking hours a day running 3 very good brickies and a few hangers on. This was at Uni. I spent a lot of time at the gym at uni and originally thought the brickies work would be a walk in the park. Took me weeks to acclimatise so I didn’t feel destroyed at the end of the day.

  3. Every time McCormack opens his mouth you realise the long line of good leadership talent that the Nationals had for decades has really run dry.
    The main problem with Scomo going on holiday is that McCormack is acting PM. He went MIA when the fires broke out 12 months ago and this time it’s worse, because he is opening cans of worms that were better left alone. Re Black Lives Matter etc .. why talk about it at all?
    This promo sells falsehoods to the young to lure them into the rural work where wages less than accommodation cost, let alone food cost, so even the most frugal lose money from the experience. Meet new people, nice, but doesn’t make up for poor payment and sometimes underpayment even on that.
    I have teenage kids and there is no way I would support them working in those conditions. Hard work and long hours are fine, good for them actually, but working for complete muppets who rip them off and shaft them are not worth my time or effort. I want my kids to get a positive experience from their first effort in the workforce. I would prefer them to hear from others’ experiences just how many self-promoting toxic animals there are out there looking to exploit them.

    • One of the good things about going to a boarding school is I have lots of friends who run agricultural enterprises around the state. I’d be fine with my kids working for someone I know (in fact I am planning on it to give their city hands a bit of real work when the time comes around) but you really do have to be careful.

  4. my toranaMEMBER

    my dad went cherry picking 20 years ago for the enjoyment of it, after he’d retired from a respectable office job. he calculated he was making 13c an hour working at his own pace. lol. he’s the fairly adept, fit type, too.

    • Display NameMEMBER

      In year 7 and 8 at high school (1977) I used to tomato pick out at Forbes. I cannot remember exactly what I earnt but I am sure it was more than $10 a day for about 5-6 hours. I never lasted a whole day. There was one family that used to pick all the time and they were machines, even the kids around my age. Parents must have been cripples by middle age, all the bending was a killer.

  5. But no one is willing to forego all those barista made coffees to make up for the higher fruit and vegetables prices required to accommodate fair wages for picking work.

    • This. Farmers are broke. They work those hours themselves due to rising costs, drought, fire, rip off middlemen and supermarket chains. One day spoiled city slickers will wake up hungry and wonder why.

      MB’s relentless farmer-bashing is lazy and ill-informed

      • Being pro-slavery is not pro-farmer, we just need to pay more for fruit and vegetables. Had os relatives try the rural work here for visa extension, I thought I knew what was going on but was shocked to hear the reality. While the slave trade is increasing at unprecedented rate, the woke hunting parties focus on micro-aggressions as a decoy.

      • Wrong. Most farmers are driving in and out of their farms in brand new range rovers and land cruisers drought or no drought.
        Farm workers meanwhile are housed in broken asbestos fibro shit holes making less than minimum wage.
        I’m from a farming community and despite now having left, I’ve never encountered a more self interested deluded bunch of landed gentry whingers as farmers.
        Even the investment bankers I’ve worked with are better people and have greater social conscious and self awareness.

        • Your experiences clearly different from mine.

          I worked running a property and met many people on the land – long hours, back breaking work, no money in it, and in debt up to their eyeballs. Farming has it’s own rewards, but money isn’t one of them. Yep, a few are entitled and ignorant, but most just had nose to the grindstone 24/7 and would help out others if they could.

          Your investment bankers still need to eat. And if they want to very far into the future it might pay to take better care of farmers and farms. After all, we only have a few years of top soil left.

      • Jumping jack flash

        Nonsense. These are private companies. Who is going to force them? The government has no jurisdiction, and no desire to poke the bear. They have far more important things to worry about than the ecomomy and the welbeing of their constituents.

        • The government absolutely has jurisdiction. Coles and Woolies are using their market power to screw farmers and have done for decades. Government can legislate a maximum market share on competition grounds if it wishes, like it did for media for a long time. They can also establish an agricultural board to determine minimum on-farm prices in the way that minimum wages were set here for a long time. And should be again. The whole deregulation push has gone too far and those without the ability to take care of themselves exploited for too long. Enough.

    • Jumping jack flash

      Yes. if we want higher wages we need higher prices but how do we pay higher prices without higher wages when most of our expenses are fixed? To break the catch-22 there needs to be a massive debt injection to pay the prices. Fortunately we got COVID.

  6. Shades of MessinaMEMBER

    Why don’t we just firewall the whole industry off and let it be the preserve of Pacific workers ?. It’s pretty clear it’s never going to be a job of choice for Australians so why fight the tide ?.

    I disagree with the nonsense around these guys getting ripped off with their accommodation but if you clean that up then it ensures disadvantaged workers and their families have an income, farmers keep their business and Aussies get cheaper fresh produce.

    Let’s just call a spade a shovel.

      • Whatever you reckon. Relying on temporary low paid workers is not a good business model. I do grow a lot of my own, so care factor is quite low. Was just putting it out there. Pay people enough coin to live a bit and they will come.

      • Agree with DRT. Horticulture is a tough business as you need it picked. The farmers aren’t the problem – they are themselves small players operating in a big system with a bit of prisoners dilemma / game theory thrown in (as in all farmers need to pay higher wages to pickers – but those that don’t can win – so you end up all paying peanuts – pun unintended).

        With wheat you have a header … one person plus capital cost of the header and you can harvest hectares with a handful of ppl – hence record volumes in the Graincorp silos this year.

        Horticulture hasn’t solved the picking issue for many crops (although interestingly I think grapes have mechanical harvesting) but stone fruit and berries are still hand picked which is kind of crazy. One of my mates went into a tree nut (forget which type) as the harvesting was pretty easy and didn’t rely on pickers.

  7. nanutarraMEMBER

    A mate of mine is picking cherries near Hobart (New Norfolk) the pickers are Afghani’s over from Shepparton and Eritrean’s . They don’t want aussies picking only want them driving tractors and picking up the lugs etc. He says labor hire firms have taken over , mostly run by Asians and and some Middle eastern preying on there own nationalities except for Italian run towns. He says the pickers get $10 a lug (10-15 kg) out of $13-$15 a lug, the hire firm take 3 to 5 dollars and they can pick up to 20/30 lugs a day . They book hotel accommodation 8 to a room ( Hearsay) what that costs them is anyone’s guess.

    • Yep. You need the recent aussie passport holders to extort their own. This is an important part of the package!

      Very interesting information – thanks for posting.

      Kind of like plastering. Has anyone seen an anglo plasterer in the last few years – we’ve done a few renos and it is always all asian crews – even on the Block!

        • Under the LNPs FTA with Chyna those non local tradies dont even need a local trade certificate.
          Can you imagine the short cuts being taken and dodgy workmanship.
          It would make average developer blush.

      • Shades of MessinaMEMBER

        Happens all over the world as the locals vacate the lower rung jobs.

        Last time I was in Bangkok, the Thai bloke I was with pointed out that the dish pigs and a lot of the servers at the restaurant we were at were from Mynamar.

        An old tradie I know in Melbourne reckons you can pick the migration waves by the blokes doing re-stumping of houses. Used to be the Italians/Greeks, then the Vietnamese and now the Africans are involved. Bloody hard and tough work.

  8. Jumping jack flash

    The simple litmus test for wages is “can you become eligible for the required amounts of debt when being paid that wage?”. If the answer is no, then the wages arent high enough.

    You’re not going to get anyone who aspires to becoming eligible for a gargantuan pile of debt accepting such low amounts of income, especially for such hard work.

    The advantage of using freshly imported labour is that they’re still just happy to be here and haven’t yet progressed to the stage of trying to aquire the debt that is absolutely essential to take on to succeed in this fine country.

  9. What if Australia had a tech sector / uni sector that instead of churning out degrees to foreigners, they put their money in researching more sustainable farm picking technology that uses machines to help Australia for Australians.

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