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Fatcow's guide to hiring backpackers for seasonal harvesting work

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article image Backpackers provide a great source of seasonal workers during harvesting time
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Harvesting season brings with it a number of challenges, not least finding a large enough pool of suitable labour to quickly and efficiently maximise a quality yield.  Many farmers and land owners turn to a workforce of willing backpackers to achieve this goal and there are many good reasons for doing so; not least that they tend to be educated, multi-lingual, computer literate and wishing to earn as much money as possible therefore prepared to work many hours including weekends. 

The majority of backpackers are here on a Working Holiday or Student Visa from a foreign country and, with the promise of a second year to spend in Australia when spending at least 88 days carrying out regional work, are keen to get straight to work in seasonal harvesting jobs that are essential to Australia’s agricultural industry.   These workers are generally young (18-30), healthy and willing work with a good attitude.

Fatcow takes a quick look at the requirements and considerations of hiring backpackers for casual harvesting work:

  • Right to Work – Possibly the most essential aspect is ensuring that workers are legal.  This must be checked within 48 hours of employment, and for foreign workers can easily be done online through VEVO (Visa Entitlement Verification Online).  To do this it is necessary to sight their passport for identification. 

    Once confirmed, backpackers on a Working Holiday Visa can work for one employer for a maximum period of 6 months.  Other visas may have stipulations, for example a maximum of 20 hours per week for student visa holders.  VEVO may inform you that the person in question has no entitlement to work in Australia, in which case it is your responsibility not to employ them.  You can refer them to DIAC for further help.

    Any Australian or New Zealand citizen is fully entitled to work in Australia and this can be verified by sighting an Australian passport or citizenship certificate, or a full Australian birth certificate along with a secondary piece of ID.  

    Whilst it is essential for you to visually check potential workers’ passports you do not have the right to hold on to or retain this document.

  • Pay – You should check the relevant award to ensure that at least the minimum wage is being paid to all harvesting workers.  This can be found at the Australian Government’s Fair Work Ombudsman website, along with other legal information on workers rights including hours and breaks etc.  You can choose to pay on a weekly or hourly basis or per unit harvested, as well as a fixed per job price as agreed on a start to finish basis.

    For casual workers there is an added 20% to compensate for the lack of benefits such as paid leave.  For backpackers tax 29% is deducted from their pay; for everyone else it’s as per tax schedule.

    It’s also important to remember that for any employee, including backpackers, superannuation at a rate of 9% must be paid if they gross more than $450 per calendar month.  You should supply workers with information of the fund that you will pay into and give them a choice to have it paid to a fund of their choice.

  • OH&S – You are responsible for ensuring that all casual harvesting workers are sufficiently trained to carry out any task that you require of them and this includes covering all operational health and safety matters. All procedures and equipment must also comply with any OH&S laws.

  • Insurance – It is a legal requirement that you provide workers compensation insurance to cover all workers for any injury that may occur.

  • Accommodation and Transport – Whilst you do not have any obligation to provide accommodation or transport to your workers it is important to understand that it is a huge incentive for backpackers to work for and remain with you for a longer periods of time if you can provide accommodation (which can be free or charged), details of local accommodation options and/or transportation to and from local hostels etc.

    If providing accommodation it must conform with the Building Code of Australia and be maintained in a safe and healthy condition.  There are minimum conditions such as the provision of toilets and amenities, as well as not being overcrowded.  Check with your local government for further details. If providing transport there are no additional requirements.

  • Finding Workers – Many hostels in regional areas cater exclusively to seasonal harvesting workers and offer to find them jobs. It is worth advertising with them.  Be aware that there is a minority of hostels that are exploiting backpackers, so ensure that they have the workers’ best interests in mind.

    Harvest Trail, which is run by the NHLIS (National Harvest Labour Information Service) is a federally funded service that helps to match farmers with backpackers.  There are also a number of other websites set up specifically to help backpackers to find all types of work throughout Australia that you can advertise with.

For more information about the ins and outs of employing backpackers for seasonal harvesting and agricultural jobs and for help with finding casual workers, visit the Harvest Trail or NHLIS website.

Photo: a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from zigwamp's Flickr photo stream

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