Cases of mistreatment of international workers were few and far between around the Granite Belt.
Cases of mistreatment of international workers were few and far between around the Granite Belt. Ewan Leighton

No horror stories here

AN EXPOSE has highlighted the disturbing and horrible conditions international workers face while working on farms around Australia.

But Best Employment Harvest Labour recruitment manager Sue Frances said cases of mistreatment were few and far between around the Granite Belt.

"Overall seasonal workers are treated well in this area," she said.

"They have a central point of contact in this office. They have a good choice of accommodation at reasonable rates and a long growing season with a choice of work.

"The large majority of farmers treat their workers well and follow the rules."

Ms Frances said she was unsurprised by the horror stories that international workers shared during the Four Corners documentary.

"I have heard similar complaints to those aired for many years now," she said.

"A handful in this region, but mostly from backpackers coming from other regions with horror stories about not being paid, verbal abuse, poor work and accommodation conditions, non-payment of superannuation, no payslips, cash jobs with no tax taken out, sexual harassment, etc..."

Ms Frances said Best staff worked hard to report such stories and assist backpackers to report the incidents themselves.

While admitting there were a select few who chose to do the wrong thing, she said the majority of workers who came to the Granite Belt were treated very well.

"We hear many positive stories from backpackers who have been working in the area for several months, telling us of the great farm and boss, and planning to come back next season and/or referring their friends," Ms Frances said.

"There has always been a good culture in this area and not a strong presence of labour hire contractors.

"Farmers are down-to-earth, hardworking people, often struggling to make ends meet so they know what it's like to give other people a fair go."

Local grower David Andreatta has become well-known to international workers.

He said the majority of backpackers knew who was and who wasn't good to work for before they even showed up.

"They all talk to each other on the internet," Mr Andreatta said.

The Ballandean grower said, without the help of international workers, there was no way he would be able to harvest his crops year after year.

He said it was frustrating that employers were treating workers so poorly.

"It is bad for the industry," Mr Andreatta said.

"There is no way in the world I would get my harvest done without their help."

Mr Andreatta said backpackers were good workers.

"They are willing to work and, if you treat them well, you don't have a problem getting the work done," he said.

"I try to keep the same picking crew for the whole season."

He said he rewarded their hard work with barbecues and bonuses.

Ms Frances agreed with Mr Andreatta, saying backpackers were crucial to the operation of Granite Belt farms.

Best Harvest Labour places about 4000 people into jobs each year.

Ms Frances said employers doing the wrong thing needed to be held to account.

"It is not fair for those doing the right thing," she said.

"Workers experiencing problems at farms are welcome to talk to us and, if no resolution is forthcoming, we recommend they contact Fair Work or whatever department is relevant to their complaint."

Southern Downs mayor Peter Blundell said the Southern Downs Regional Council worked hard to ensure that the backpackers in this region were treated well and that they were not being housed in inappropriate, unsafe or overcrowded homes.

"Backpackers are essential to our district," he said. "The council is very keen to fix the accommodation problems and we will and do pursue those who are doing the wrong thing.

"We have gone as far as prosecuting before and we will do it again."


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