Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Fruit pickers targeted by con men

Backpacking fruit pickers have become victims of a scam offering non-existent work.

GEOFF ADAMS January 10, 2013 4:05am

Julien Aufrere (left) and Francois Bernard have travelled a long way to pick fruit in the Goulburn Valley.

A French backpacking couple has been ripped off by two men posing as fruit picking contractors.

The man and woman, here for the fruit season, paid $90 each for jobs which were never delivered.

The Harvest Labour Office has reminded people seeking work the jobs the office finds have no charge or fee because the service is federally funded.

Hundreds of backpackers are now working to bring in the apricot crop but CVGT branch manager Vaughan Adams said most jobs were filled at the moment and more vacancies would be available later in the month when the peaches and pears ripened.

The French travellers told their story to the Harvest Labour Office earlier in the season when it became obvious they had been tricked.

Following an email, they had met two men at the rear of a supermarket car park in Mooroopna and had been promised picking equipment and jobs by the end of the day.

When they did not get a call, they tried the mobile phone number they were given, but could not get through.

Mr Adams said they found a generous grower at Kialla East who had offered the couple free accommodation while waiting for a job on the orchard.

‘‘It turned out okay, but it could have been a dark experience for this couple, and we don’t want the GV to get a reputation like that.’’

Mr Adams is aware bad news travels fast on the Internet and many of the pickers use electronic networks to find work, get accommodation and warn of dangers.

Harvest labour co-ordinator Denise Elliot said they don’t encourage pickers to move to the area before about the third week in January or without having secured a job.

‘‘There tends to be a flow that starts just after Christmas-New Year,’’ Ms Elliot said.

‘‘After they have arrived on the east coast they tend to move down here for the apricots.

‘‘We encourage travellers to get in touch with us first. Otherwise they could be waiting and paying for accommodation.’’

Backpackers have been taking advantage of the opportunity to extend their Australian visas by working in agricultural jobs for specified periods.

Poor economic conditions in Europe have increased the numbers.

Another French traveller, Julien Aufrere, wanted a working holiday and the opportunity to improve his English.

He met fellow Frenchman Francois Bernard while in Australia and the two of them were in Shepparton last week chasing work.

Francois has been picking capsicums near Melbourne and broccoli in NSW.

‘‘There are no jobs,’’ he said of his home country.

Anyone looking for picking work can contact the Harvest Labour Office on 1300724788.

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