THEIR jobs are in high demand, but fruit growers in the Orange area who need pickers for the approaching season are being urged to do their homework and only engage contractors who follow workplace protocols and meet requirements of legislation.
Head of NSW Farmers horticulture committee Peter Darley said negative feedback from pickers who came to the area last season regarding under- or non-payment should serve as a reminder for growers.
“Just engaging any contractor and assuming they are meeting all their obligations in relation to workers compensation and superannuation entitlements isn’t good enough,”Mr Darley said.
“I would say to growers you can’t be ignorant and ignore the regulations and just assume contractors are taking care of things - you have to do some work yourself in this area.”
He said an increasing number of foreign workers, particularly Europeans on working holidays, is providing a pool of workers for growers, who have struggled to find sufficent labour in recent years.
Mr Darley said many of the larger orchard operations in the area now provide amenities on site for backpackers.
“A lot of the backpackers now are very mobile and they buy themselves a van when they get here to Australia so they can get around and work,” he said.
Mr Darley acknowledged it was the oversupply of backpackers who came to the city last season, coupled with a lack of work towards the end of the season, which led to some instances of illegal camping.
Cabonne Council was forced to move on several groups of backpackers camping illegally on Crown Land at the base of the Pinnacle.
Mr Darley believes backpackers will continue to use websites such as Gum Tree and Harvest Trail to locate work opportunities for fruit picking, regardless of this season’s output.
Towards the end of the last picking season Mr Darley said work ran out because, with a flood of imported produce in the market, prices plummeted and it was not economically viable for growers to pick and sell their fruit.
Instead, growers left it to rot on the trees.
Mr Darley recommended growers who have any questions about the validity of working visas of visiting pickerscontact the Department of Immigration or call him on 0418 668 691.
An investigation is still underway by Fair Work Australia into the employment of pickers by a local contractor, who it is alleged to have underpaid pickers or did not pay them in a timely manner.