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Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Backpacking pickers fight the heat

International visitors who help bring in the Goulburn Valley's fruit harvest are battling the Aussie summer heat.

LAURA GRIFFIN December 11, 2012 4:09am

Interational fruit pickers at the Tatura Hotel. (Frp, left to right): Euan Gray of New Zealand, Ellis Dunning of England, Ariel Der Wolters of Holland, Nina Steenwinkel of Holland, Florrie Bowler of England and Anna Stafford of Ireland.


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The changing temperatures have made the start of the Goulburn Valley fruit picking season run similarly hot and cold.

Despite the stop-start nature of the harvest, a group of six European fruit pickers was joking and smiling around a table at the Tatura Hotel.

Florrie Bowler has spent two weeks picking apricots and said the biggest challenge was the heat.

‘‘I’m from England. How do you Australians deal with it?’’ Florrie said.

Some of the international tourists are picking fruit to qualify for the second year of their Working Holiday Visa. Under the visa conditions, they must do 88 days of specified work in regional areas, as designated by postcodes.

Ellis Dunning, also of England, said it was a fair condition.

‘‘You can’t expect to get a second year for nothing,’’ Ellis said.

He said all pickers quickly worked out you needed to work hard to make money.

The group said listening to motivational music helped fruit picking.

‘‘Get some Eye of the Tiger,’’ Anna Stafford of Ireland said.

Ariel Der Wolters of Holland said the heat was exacerbated in greenhouses, where he had been picking tomatoes.

The tomato farm is a coveted workplace, however, because pickers there are paid an hourly wage.

Rebecca Sloan, who runs recruitment service Australia Unearthed, said most farms paid by the bin.

The Shepparton woman started the business five years ago to help international fruit pickers and Goulburn Valley orchardists by filling staffing needs and ensuring the workers turned up when needed.

She organises pickers’ accommodation and transport and generally supports them during their three-month stay.

The pickers she recruits sign an agreement to work for a minimum period.

Rebecca mainly works with pickers from Europe, Korea, Canada and America. She hopes this year to manage about 300 pickers during the season’s peak in January to April. They will stay in Tatura, Ardmona and Stanhope.

She has noticed ‘‘an enormous increase’’ in fruit pickers being hired by contractors, some of whom treat pickers unfairly.

Rebecca and the international backpackers have heard stories of contractors leaving with pickers’ pay or refusing to sign off on days worked.

The group said the industry could be better regulated to stop some people taking advantage of pickers.

Rebecca said that could include more funding for harvest recruitment, which could help farmers avoid falling into situations where they needed to use questionable contractors.

‘‘We need to protect our region’s reputation, to ensure future pickers come.’’

She said not only did farmers rely on pickers, but the tourists also spent money with local businesses.

Anna said it would be great to have an official list of farms that treated pickers well, and have farms audited more often.

‘‘A lot of farms are in the middle of nowhere and you hear stories of farmers or people posing as farmers on websites asking young women to send through photos. It can be seedy,’’ she said.Picker numbers rising

 

CVGT Australia harvest labour consultant Denise Elliot said thousands of seasonal fruit pickers came to the Goulburn Valley every year and there had been a noticeable increase in numbers in the past few years.

‘‘We’re a big harvest area and Australia generally has become a very popular destination,’’ Ms Elliot said.

She said the country offered international tourists good opportunities to travel and make money.

Ms Elliot offers the following tips to fruit pickers:

Be prepared to work in different temperatures, including high temperatures;

Be physically fit because it is hard, hot work;

If you don’t have experience, it takes a little time to learn the technique.

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