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Fruit pickers, take note

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Garreth Turner Written by:
Garreth Turner
Special Counsel - Townsville

Come harvest time, most Australian farmers are desperate for good workers.  For backpackers fruit picking is a relatively easy job to secure between December and July, but the work itself is far from a walk in the park.  Days are long, with repetitive and physically demanding tasks in very hot and humid conditions.

Backpackers, know your rights.

Just last week a 27 year old fruit picker from Belgium died from suspected heat stroke while working on a farm near Ayr, North Queensland. The tragic death of this young man, who was no doubt in Australia to spread his wings, should serve as a reminder to all foreign workers – especially manual labourers – to familiarise themselves with Australian laws and their workplace rights.

A significant number of backpackers undertake farm work in Northern Queensland every year.  It’s a popular job for those on foreign visas who are required to work for 3 months in regional Australia to apply for a second year.

The harsh Australian and North Queensland climate make outdoor and labouring roles especially dangerous.

Under Australian law, it’s the employer’s responsibility to implement, enforce and supervise appropriate systems to safeguard their workers. Regular water breaks, rest periods, accessible shaded areas, and wearing of appropriate protective clothing are just some examples of the safety measures employers must take to ensure the well-being of their staff.

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It’s reported that the 27-year-old male was picking watermelons when he became unwell and collapsed. He was urgently transported to hospital where he later passed away.  A Coroner’s Report together with a Workplace Health and Safety Investigation will no doubt unveil further details, including any deficiencies in the system of work.

It’s no secret that the fruit picking industry has a reputation for hiring unskilled casual workers.

Employers often pay on a cash in hand basis, with very little or no emphasis on training and safety. Workers are often paid an hourly rate, or on a capacity / what they pick basis. This results in workers adopting unsafe working regimes, skipping breaks, not seeking shade or drinking enough when rushing.

Where any worker or fruit picker feels that the tasks they are performing are dangerous, or that their working conditions are unsafe, they shouldn’t be afraid to formally raise this with their employer who has a non-delegable duty to ensure the worker’s safety.

Anyone currently working on a farm or thinking about entering into a labouring or fruit picking role should take the time to read up and educate themselves on Australian laws and their workplace rights.  This knowledge will prove invaluable should they ever find themselves in a compromising situation.

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Unfortunately, not all employers are doing the right thing.

It’s for this reason that workers need to have the understanding and confidence to stand up for themselves when something simply doesn’t feel right.

This young man’s family have lost their son; hopefully other travelers keen to work their way around Australia will take note of this shocking tragedy and do what they can to protect themselves when working in our tough conditions.

Get in touch

If you’re worried about your working conditions, or want more information on your rights as an employee, get in touch with Shine Lawyers today. Our lawyers are employment law experts, and can help you determine your rights and entitlements under the law.

Written by Garreth Turner on . Last modified: November 9, 2017.

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