Finding good farm work with a reputable, fair employer can be tough. You have to do your homework. We asked our friend, and seasoned traveller – Jub Byrant – to write this article to help guide backpackers looking for an awesome farm work experience. Enjoy!
So you are like Australia yea?
You’d like to extend your working holiday visa for another year?
To do so you’ll need to complete 88 days of regional work. Up for the challenge?
These 88 days may not be consecutive so be prepared to spend at least 25% of your first year in Australia working towards your right to apply for a second year.
This isn’t a small amount of time. You want to make sure you have the best farm work experience in Australia. Take note of the advice in this guide and you’ll be well on your way to have a very memorable time.
Which types of employers to avoid?
There are a few different employers you might find yourself working for on farms in Australia. Here are the three common ones:
1. Working hostels
Companies hire people who stay at certain hostels.
2. Labour hire company
They often work closely with hostels and act as a middleman between hostels and employers.
3. Direct employment
Your accommodation is up to you. You may need to stay on the property.
The above scenarios are all different and you shouldn’t avoid one over the other as you will hear stories both good and bad from all types of employers.
In general, the employers to avoid will: lack communication, make excuses for basic requests, not make payments on time, have bad reviews online and talk down to you.
Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling about an employer, do yourself a favour and seek work elsewhere.
And as usual, if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
What questions to ask of employers?
When you start applying for a cattle station job, there usually won’t be any formal interview. While this is great, especially if you act quickly on leads, it does have a downside.
You and prospective employers might have very different expectations which don’t reveal themselves until you arrive at your new destination.
Asking the following questions first will help ensure you find unwelcome surprises before you arrive.
What day do we get paid?
The majority of employers will pay you weekly. The payment week will vary however, so it’s important to track your hours and ask for payslips.
How do you track the hours?
Ideally you will have set hours every day. If not, make sure you have a verbal agreement at bare minimum of the start and finish time each day.
What’s my employment status?
Pay rates differ between part time, full time and casual. While your work may seem casual with the hours, they may pay you part time rates. If they say they have a separate agreement,
Will we receive 7 day sign off?
You are probably wanting to finish your 88 days off ASAP. If you work a full working week (40 hours or so), many employers will sign you off for seven days. This varies however. What happens if you only do a four day week?
Are penalty rates paid?
This doesn’t usually apply for regional work, but you may be entitled to higher pay rates for working: weekends, public holidays, overtime and late night/early morning shifts.
Do we need to bring any equipment?
You may be required to purchase steel cap boots, high-vis work shirts and/or gloves. It’s cheaper to purchase these in cities than in a random regional town far from large retail stores.
How many days and weeks of work will be available?
Most of the time employers won’t be able to tell you exactly how long work will be available for. If they say there’s only two weeks of work predicted though, you’ll need to consider the benefits of taking that on.
What are the living conditions?
If you are staying in a hostel, ask how many beds are in the dorm and what amenities are supplied. Check the reviews on hostel booking websites afterwards.
Will you require any money upfront?
You might get a nasty surprise when you turn up with a request for a month’s rent in advance and a bond. This shouldn’t be the case but confirmation is always good.
What payment packages are the best?
You are going to be paid either an hourly rate, a piece rate or a combination of the two.
Your motivation may be high when you hear of potential piece rates. With calculations in your head you figure you’ll make well over $30/hour and make north of $1000 a week.
While you will hear of occasional success stories on piece rates, you are almost always better off with hourly pay.
With an hourly pay rate, you’ll better be able to predict your weekly income and there’s less stress of counting how much you are making on the job. The situation quickly becomes complicated in your head!
‘If I pick three more buckets in the last three hours I earn $63… that’s, less than minimum wage. I better pick faster, but I still need a break and the fruit isn’t getting easier to pick’.
If your employer gives you the choice, ask if you can try piece rates a trial run for a day. You’ll soon know if it will be worth it. Keep in mind, you’ll become more efficient at whatever it is you find yourself doing.
What Should Backpackers Expect?
Everyone will have a different experience depending . Here’s a few things you should expect however:
You’ll be pushing yourself physically harder than ever before.
If it’s windy or raining, this will often influence what work can be done. You may find yourself without work for a few days at a time.
Some jobs you might work 12 hours everyday for a week if the conditions are right, some days you might work two. You’ll often get no warning, so be prepared for a big day everyday. This is particularly true for outside jobs.
If you are staying in a working hostel, everyone has a common goal creating a good environment to makes friends.
Some days you’ll struggle. You might be tired and the work is harder than usual but that is par for the course. If you struggle with a hangover, don’t accept that last drink!
You might want to purchase some cheap/second hand clothes for your farm work. Expect to throw whatever you’ve been wearing on the farm
If you are working outside, most employers prefer starting before 7am during the coldest hours of the day. You’ll learn to love seeing the sunrise.
Hot temperatures in summer
The hot days are nice when you can hit the beach, they’re not so nice when you are working! Always make sure you have lots of water with you.
How To Avoid Disreputable Employers?
As mentioned above, the lack of a formal interview takes away many of the unmeasurable elements of a position. Namely trust.
Thanks to the internet, you are able to do some research on your perspective farm and hostel before you arrive.
With Google: Use a few of the following searches in Google to find out if anyone has written about their experiences in the past.
- “Farm work” + “(job type)” + “(location)” + “news”
- “Regional work” +”(job type)” + “(employer)”
- “Working hostels” +(location)” + “news”
Other combinations similar to the above work too. Most of the tops positions will be filled by jobs boards so take the time to scroll through pages two and three for stories.
If you know the hostel you’re staying in, check out the reviews on the Facebook page. People will leave comments on the page as well as reviews. If the owner responds to comments, you’ll be able to read a lot into their operation.
What should I do if I find myself working for a dick head employer?
There isn’t a formula applicable here as each dick head employer will need to be dealt with on a case by case basis.
What is the reason he is being a dick head?
If his/her behaviour isn’t affecting you, or your ability to work, it usually is best to just keep up and shut up. While you may not enjoy the job, as long as you are getting paid well and have things to look forward to after the day is over it isn’t the end of the world.
Are you being overworked?
Overworked is a broad statement up for interpretation. If you aren’t given any breaks, no chance for a drink and are long long shifts you may have to act. It’s worth taking note of what your legal entitlements are before taking action.
If you are getting cheated out of money, address any concerns right away. This won’t always end well however, so be prepared to not work with this employer any longer.
The best thing you can do is to post honest experiences afterwards. This goes for positive experiences too. The more knowledge future workers have access to will help them make informed decisions.
Depending on the job situation you can end up with 5+ superannuation accounts, all charging you fees. You probably don’t care much about this money, but it adds up and you may be able to claim the funds when you leave the country. Get your membership number off your first employer, and use it for every job afterwards.
No reasons to pay the same fees multiple times to different companies!
This guide may seem like we are focusing on the negative. Remember, your time is valuable and no one should be allowed to take advantage of you… there are hundreds of incidents where this happens every year.
Do some research in advance, and trust your gut instincts. If you go in with a positive attitude and the classic work hard, play harder mentality you’ll have the time of your life, meet life long friends and earn the right to apply for a second year visa.
Founder, Tiki Touring Kiwi
Ever since Jordan (better known as Jub) finished University in 2011, he’s found himself with a variety of jobs, living in six countries, visiting plenty more and had a lot of fun. From working online, to handling FedEx packages, reconciling bank accounts it was a trip to Georgia that begun a stint of farm work. Georgia is an old world wine country, so he wanted to learn more about wine and had a great time working on vineyards in Martinborough, New Zealand. Continuing the outdoor theme, Bundaberg was an eye opener to the not so nice side of farm work. Many of the helpful tips above are from first hand experience. He knows that there is plenty of awesome farm work experiences out there, if you know what to and not to be aware of.