Tales of backpacker exploitation influences grower's methods

CONTROL: Farm manager Darryl Holt says his company chooses to hire workers directly rather than through labour contractors.
CONTROL: Farm manager Darryl Holt says his company chooses to hire workers directly rather than through labour contractors. Stuart Cumming

HORROR stories of worker exploitation have shaped the way Beerwah strawberry grower Darryl Holt sources his seasonal staff.

Mr Holt, a manager at Oaklands Farms, was not surprised to hear seasonal workers were being taken advantage of by contractors.

The issue received national attention through a Four Corners television report earlier this week.

"There are contractors who do the right thing, but the bulk of them don't," Mr Holt said.

The very start of the picking season is under way at the Mawsons Rd farm and a workforce of backpackers as well as local residents will soon boost the regular staff of seven up to about 80.

Those workers will be paid directly by Oaklands Farms.

Mr Holt said the benefit in doing that was knowing staff were paid according to the relevant awards and superannuation contributions were being made.

"It is peace of mind for yourself.

"When Fair Work comes looking, you have been doing the right thing."

He could understand why some farms used contractors to manage their labour, considering the large amount of work that required.

But he said it was on them to ensure their contractors were paying and treating their workers correctly.

Wamuran farmer and Strawberry Growers Association of Queensland vice-president Adrian Schultz said a bad experience when using contractors meant he would always manage his workforce directly.

After being approached numerous times, he and wife Amanda finally agreed to let a contractor supply their labour.

"We tried to free up a bit of time," Mr Schultz said.

They warned him they would be watching him closely and three weeks after starting, the contractor was sacked.

"He was not paying workers properly.

"Because they were all Korean it was very difficult for us to know if they were being abused or not."

Fellow Wamuran grower Ray Daniels, of Sunray Strawberries, said he used a contract system rather than a contractor.

"We actually print the contract and pay slip for them (workers) so we know they are getting paid," Mr Daniels said.

His workers are paid on a piece rate, which essentially rewards those with the skills and ethic to do higher than average amounts of work.

At the same time, it encourages slower workers to improve through lower than average pay.

Mr Daniels said the hourly rates could be upward of $40 and lower than $10.

"It's a way of self-motivation."

Meanwhile, Elimbah-based pineapple grower Chris Fullerton said he felt the whole fruit and vegetable industry had been painted in a bad light.

"We don't use any contractors at all," Mr Fullerton said.

"It's pretty bloody disappointing."

He said not as many staff were required to harvest pineapples when compared to strawberries, but he still relied on backpacker workers to get the job done.

"If we weren't able to source the foreign labour, we would be in really big trouble.

"Australians don't want the work."

The Daily contacted four labour contractors and one Beerwah farm that used contractor's services however all declined to comment.

Topics:  backpackers exploitation growers

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