IT is a curious question: why would young European and Asian workers leave their studies and city work at home to come and toil in the dirt, paddocks, orchards and sheds of Australian farms?
Some will return with fond memories of their working sojourn Down Under- others with horror stories.
Backpackers have become a relied-on labour source for horticulture, but not all is right. Growers, representative groups and local politicians all know there are rogue labour contractors operating within the horticulture sector.
The ABC’s Four Corners, and indeed reporters Caro Meldrum-Hanna and Ali Russell, must be congratulated for their story entitled Slaving Away, which took an in-depth look at the concerning labour hire practices within agriculture.
It was not an “exclusive” or an expose by any means because this issue has been extensively written about before.
This magazine delivered a special report on the issue in June last year, and numerous online and print media have followed the calls for change to deal with unscrupulous labour hire middlemen.
The reputation and available resources of Four Corners however, has thrust the issue into a larger spotlight and made some significant people sit up.
In a way, it was necessary for a big city out-of-towner to report on the issue as it has the distance and protection required to delve into it.
The nature of the matters being dealt with (human networks, intimidation, physical hostility) makes it a very different matter for whistleblowers and reporters living in the communities where poor labour practices are happening.
Upon inquiring with an industry representative about investigating dodgy third-party, almost underworld-like figures, I was strongly advised to steer clear as a matter of personal safety.
“We’re talking guns and knives,” the representative said.
What happens next will be interesting.
As thorough as the ABC’s report was, the entire horticulture industry will be somewhat tainted from it as casual viewers latch onto the emotional underdog injustices and fling comments across social media.
It must be said that the vast majority of farmers use credible and reputable labour hire companies.
There are many stories of positive grower-backpacker working relationships out there, and how workers enjoy their time spent on farms under the Australian sunshine making memories and money.
That’s a story the rest of the country, and indeed the world, needs to see.