AN employment contractor at the centre of a pay dispute with fruit pickers called police to a Nashdale orchard on Monday night after temperatures boiled over.
The orchard’s owner Andrew Gartrell confirmed Anna Berry from the employment contractor Pasifika Resources called the police but denied it was because of claims of overdue payments.
“There was a scuffle between some backpackers,” he said.
“[The payments] are all on track.”
A group of pickers, predominately backpackers, stopped work at the orchard last week following concerns about late payments.
Morgane Le Galle, Jean-Baptiste Huguenot, Clement Chevlreau, and Tamguy Bailbled all contacted the Central Western Daily to say employment contractor Pasifika Resources still owes them for work at the orchard.
Mr Chevlreau and Mr Bailbled say they are still owed money for work from December 12.
Pasifika Resources’ Anna Berry refused to comment on the reason for the delay in paying the wages or the number of workers affected when contacted last week.
In a video recording of last week’s strike, obtained by the CWD, Mr Gartrell signed a letter guaranteeing the workers would be paid.
He told the CWD the dispute was between the contractor and the workers and downplayed the workers’ complaints.
“It’s a small core who have had a falling out with the contractor,” he said.
“They were told when they started work it was fortnightly pay, but the backpackers wanted to be paid [before New Year’s Eve] to shoot through to the fireworks.”
Ms Le Galle said some of her fellow workers hadn’t been paid for three weeks and were returning to the orchard everyday until the matter was resolved.
“I’m not violent but they wouldn’t explain why [we hadn’t been paid],” she said.
“We just said we don’t want to go pick if we don’t have any money.”
Ms Le Galle and Mr Huguenot have been paid some outstanding money but are still owed for other work.
The group have since started work at another orchard where they are directly employed by the owner.
Mr Gartrell said the harvest contractors had been forced to rely upon itinerant backpacker labour rather than more skilled professional seasonal workers because of the large cherry crop volume this season.
“Unfortunately backpackers tend to be less reliable especially during the Christmas-New Year holiday period,” he said.
“Our export company made an undertaking to the non-working backpackers to fast track payments from the growers’ returns so that they could be paid out ahead of time.
“Work has continued on that property and the harvest was unaffected.”