Efforts to paint Australians as too lazy to take fruit-picking jobs have been blown apart by an experienced fruit-picker who has revealed he was lured to a Queensland farm on the promise of making more than $3,000-a-week only to be paid less than the minimum wage.
Noah Wun, 33, is a fit, experienced picker – he’s been up and down Australia’s harvest trail chasing the season since he was 18.
In September he saw a news headline touting a ‘$3800 a week job no one wants’ picking fruit and decided to follow it up.
He signed up that week with the farm through MADEC, a not-for-profit contracted by the federal government to link growers and pickers.
The contract he signed stipulated he would not complain if he was paid under the minimum wage for ‘piece work’ – where pickers are paid on the number of boxes they pick.
“They got us to sign an agreement stating the horticulture award does not guarantee a minimum wage, and we understand we might not make a minimum wage on the piece rate,” Mr Wun told The New Daily.
“There was a clause that said I’m not signing under duress.”
The minimum casual wage in Australia is $753.80 per 38-hour week.
Mr Wun was paid nearly 25 per cent less than that – just $577 – and that was after he threatened to go to take his case to the Fair Work Ombudsman because they had underpaid him.
“At first [they were going to pay] under $300, and then I contacted MADEC and put the wind up them about contacting Fair Work,” he said.
“They rectified part of my pay, but it wasn’t a minimum wage. My friend made around $80 dollars for the week and he worked 60 hours. This is the ‘$3800 job a week that no Aussie wants to do’.”
Both MADEC and the farm were contacted for comment by The New Daily but did not respond before deadline.
Morrison government throws money at the problem
The revelations come as the Morrison government ramps up a public push for unemployed Australians to take farm jobs to stop this year’s harvest going to waste.
Despite the government’s new $6000 cash incentive, there is mounting evidence that a large number of unemployed locals are being knocked back from farm work because, as one dejected worker told The New Daily, they are ‘not as exploitable’ as foreigners.
The government’s push to get boots on the ground has been helped by headlines that suggest unemployed Australians are turning down big bucks because they don’t want to do the hard yards on our farms.
Mr Wun showed The New Daily payslips from another job ‘to prove he wasn’t lazy’.
Now, he’s got “a good job, with hourly pay” in a packing shed in northern NSW but says the federal government’s farm work policies have made it hard for Australian citizens to get picking jobs.
“When they extended the working holiday visas to include more countries, it got harder,” he said.
The farmers started contracting the backpacker hostels to provide the labour, the situation became that you could only get work if you’re staying at the backpacker hostel.”
Australian job seekers have told The New Daily they’ve applied for farm work recently, but have not been able to land work because they had their own accommodation or lived locally – and the contract said they had to stay at the hostel.
Often the hostels charge exorbitant prices for basic accommodation.
The video below was provided by a group of Scottish backpackers who told The New Daily they were slugged $180 each to bunk together for a week in a tiny room in Bundaberg while they worked on a nearby farm.
This is despite the fact that for as little as $200 a week you can rent your own clean unit in central Bundaberg.
Currently, labour-hire companies across the country are advertising for positions, some of them specifically stating they will only employ backpackers.
‘Working holidaymaker only’ several job ads say, while others specify that candidates ‘must have a WHV visa’ to apply.
Mr Wun said the government’s push to plug the backpacker hole with Australians would not work, because the farmers simply wouldn’t employ them.
“It’s definitely playing out on both sides. A lot of Aussies don’t want the work because they know they won’t make a wage and the farmers are then saying ‘they are too lazy’,” he said.
Mr Wun suggested a national hotline to report farmers doing the wrong thing and a clean up of wages across the industry so “everyone makes $750 a week”.
“You need to know which farmer does the right thing and which ones don’t. There needs to be accreditation,” he said.
Mr Wun stressed he didn’t want a ‘witch hunt’ against farmers, who are under price pressure by the big supermarkets.
It all comes back to the supermarket for price-setting and forcing the farmers to be price-takers,” he said.
“The two majors are enforcing the price down and down – it’s the same thing they did with the milk.”
Mr Wun said if consumers wanted to eat exploitation-free food, they would need to be prepared to pay more, so supermarkets can pay farmers properly.
“I think the bottom line is a fair effort for fair pay. And I really strongly bring it back to the consumers and retailers.”