It is a heavy struggle for many backpackers in Australia: Finding the right rural work that counts for a second year sign off AND where you do NOT get ripped off! Many backpackers in Australia face the challenges of long working days, getting paid per bucket, extreme work conditions, overcharging work hostels AND salaries way below minimum wage. Luckily if you start on time, use common sense and know where to go, your farm work can turn out to be a great episode of your 'down under story'.
1. Start early!
Let's face it, all good things come with time. Therefore, start on time. Some of the better farms have a waiting list or only work in certain seasons. Starting your farmwork early gives you the freedom to pick your best bet and have the flexibility to wait till your perfect place has a spot available.
Another big plus: if you turn up to a place and it appears to be no good, you can leave and have enough time tocontinue your sign-off quest elsewhere.
2. Use eligible platforms to find the right job
There is a lot of false promises out there. Make sure you only take advice from sincere people. Ask around your Ozzie friends if they have any farmers amongst there friends and family. Ask other backpackers if they could recommend you any good addresses. Put a post on your Facebook page or make use of the tons of Facebook pages and groups that are out there. A few good ones are:
Gumtree is also a good source to find good farm jobs, BUT: be aware of any dodgy labour hire contractors or dishonoust farmers.
3. Inform yourself well
Always organize a phone- or skype call before committing yourself to any work. Ask detailed information about accommodation (how many people per room, how many people per bathroom, per kitchen, cleaning rosters. Are rent and meals included in the salary or deducted from your payslip. What are the work hours? What level of fitness/strength is required to do the work? What is the salary? Is the pay per hour/per bucket, etc.
If possible/available request a work contract to be sent to you prior to your arrival, so you have the time to read through every bits and pieces of it. Some farms also give you the opportunity to talk/message with some of the other backpackers working for them atm, so you can get a good idea of what you are signing up for.
If a place seems too good to be true, it probably is…
4. Don’t rock up to your farm work broke!
It is a classic story: a backpacker turns up at a working hostel or farm without a single dollar left in its pocket. They're still being charged for the room with false promises of getting x amount of hours/days a work a week.
This is normally the start of a nightmare. Being in debt with a working hostel or farm, forces you to accept the unacceptable and not being able to leave. Make sure you have enough resources to sustain yourself for a good few weeks and have the budget to travel to another place if your work spot appears to be no good.
5. Avoid working hostels and labour hire contractors
Working hostels and labour work contractors, even when legit, make money out of workers. Avoid seeing a part of your salary been taken out every payslip for rent, service costs, etc. Always try to work directly with the employer.
Working directly with the employer also improves your working conditions as it makes them responsible for any issues you are facing during work hours. Issues or complaints from backpackers being contracted via a third party are often bounced back to the (often not-contactable) contractor.
6. Go with the seasons
Every state in Australia has its own ‘high season’ when it comes to work. These seasons vary per type of produce. During these seasons farmers face great challenges finding sufficient (skilled) staff members to finish all the work on time. The key is to time it right and you’ll have the room for negotiation on your side. For a brief summary of the seasons, check out: fruitpickingjobs.com.au
7. Get some experience up your sleeve
Having experience in working with animals or being able to drive a tractor, definitely, makes you more attractive to hire PLUS to give you that better position. Consider gaining some work experience through volunteer work via WOOFFing or Workaway to pimp up that resume before you start applying.
8. Go for an hourly rate
It might sound tempting: "Get $80 per bucket, some of our best pickers get up to 5 buckets a day!"
But a lot of the times this is a one-off record, made by a workaholic doing 24 hours of work straight. Buckets are, a lot of the time, massive baskets that take multiple hours to get filled. Especially when you factor in weather conditions like a burning hot sun, extremely high temperatures and -humidity and more. An hourly rate is way more consistent and gives you a good base to steadily up your savings.
9. Avoid place without phone reception
This rule counts (as unfair as it may sound) especially for the solo female travelers amongst us. Some of the stations are beyond remote. Far away from any form of contact with the outside world. There have been several incidents of (especially female travelers) facing sexual insults or even worse whilst working in remote areas. Make sure you are always able to contact any help sources if needed.
In case you find yourself in a situation of going in an area without reception, always make sure you know the employer and colleagues well before leaving. Know what date you will return to the land of the living and inform a friend and or family member.
10. Check your work rights and minimum wages
Fairwork Australia holds a clear legislation when it comes to working rights. Think of maximum work hours, minimum pay, minimum break time, etc. Knowing your rights definitely, makes you stand your ground better. Inform yourself well. Check out the latest legislation on fairwork.gov.au
11. Double check if the place is eligible for a sign-off.
The government gives out a clear list of occupations and postal codes that are eligible for a second-year sign-off. Double check if your farmwork will meet these requirements on border.gov.au.
Do you have any further questions about farmwork in Australia or how to find it? Don't hesitate to get in contact with me!
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto
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