Sonntag, 5. März 2017

2nd year visa farmwork in Australia - expectations and reality

1 month of farmwork in Australia. Time to reflect. I had expectations, we all had. We all knew it would be hard work and some jobs would be better than others. 
We had no idea.

So 1 month is done. Hallef*ckinglujah. Honestly. Unfortunately 1 month out of 3 months farmwork is not 1/3 as I explained in another post about organising farmwork. Nope. In fact I have 20 days. 20 out of 88. And I actually didn't take that many days off. To be honest, I don't even know how this is possible. February has 28 days, I started the 4th and took one weekend off. Plus another day and then there was that sick day, were I had food poisoning and decided, food preparation with that wouldn't be too nice. Since we have dorms here and you have to let people know, if you're going to work or not, you gotta stand up anyway.
So basically I did one month of farmwork so far and slept in twice. And with 'slept in' I mean everything after 7am. And I have less than 1/4 of my required days. Lovely.
But let's stop complaining and reflect a bit. Is farmwork as everyone expects it? What do people think? Australians, Backpackers, Farmers? How's the reality?

Before we start, I gotta say: (of course) nothing is complete here. Millions of people have millions of expectations and experiences. However I spoke to at least 100 people during the last month(s) and heard, saw and experienced quite a bit myself. So I'm sure, there are people who completely disagree but here are my answers:

So many farms, it's gonna be easy to find farmwork.
Buy a car first. Serioulsy, do it! And don't come with no money, expecting, you'll earn something straight away. Couples have better chances at some farms, because they are supposed to be calmer (no one wants
Don't touch the figs with your skin!!!
party backpackers, most farmers love Asians and hate French btw., Germans are pretty in the good middle, as well as people from the UK and Italians are almost as hated as French, and for the record: it's not me who's saying that but that's what people got told here by farmers, several times.). In the end: yes. There are amazingly many farms. But there are amazingly many contractors as well. And everyone wants to feed himself. It is easy to find a job. It is not easy, to find a good one.
Every rule has exceptions but in general contractors are not making farmwork any better. If you find something without working hostel or contractor, you're way better served (how to do that will be part of the last farmwork post after 3 months).
Seasons are not reliable. You can get super lucky and find a hundred jobs or (like it happend to me in Tassie) the season was bad, the harvest was destroyed because of too much rain and even the farmers struggle.

3 months should be enough. Maybe 4 to be sure.
No. They are not.
They might be, when you're the lucky one, who finds a farm for 3 consecutive months. But even then: Seasons are not reliable (do I repeat myself..?). It rains a bit or it is so hot that you become a witness of a bushfire and whoops... There it is your problem. The gouvernment does not give a shit, if you're in hospital, the farm on fire or if Aliens came down to get you. They really don't. So if something happens that forces you to leave the farm, you'll be back at 88 days instead of 3 months. Think about it that way: sometimes it's enough to don't like the work. Or to hate your boss. And you just wanna leave. Goes faster than most people think.

It's just 3 months, I can do everything for 3 months.
Hm. Maybe. Maybe you're one of those. I met them. They're always smiling and motivated. Even if they're treated like shit, sunburned all over, with a broken shoulder or leg, earning 3 dollars/hour. You have to decide, if you are really willing and strong enough, to deal with everything. I am honest: I overrated myself. I can not take 12 hours of 38 degrees+ in the sun, doing physical labour for 5/hour. Or I simply don't want to push such system. Yes, a hat helps. To a certain point. Suncreen too. Babypowder helps against all itches. Water is a must. I did it but I wasn't smiling in the end nor motivated. And I decided, I simply don't want to ruin my body, my mood, my integrity and my pride for too less money to even pay my rent. This is a decision, we all have to make. Yes, we're under pressure. We need days and money or have our reasons. But in the end: Keep working under bad circumstances will not change a thing. It will only fuck you up. And the next people to come will be in the same situation. If you can: go and report if necessary. That this all is still happening is more than crazy. We have work rights, laws and when everyone refuses to work under illegal conditions the farmers and contractors have to change something.

Yes, it will be hard work but it can't be that bad. I actually like the thought of being outside in the nature. And I'll see sunrises!
Haha. Yes. The girl in the white dress is picking some apples in a smooth summer breeze. 
Forget it. But you'll see beautiful sunrises. Every morning. 2 hours after you got dressed.
Sunrise Sunrise... It is beautiful in
I heard some good stories from people. But not a single one where the work was actually super nice. The good ones always sounded like "Well of course the work was shit but at least I could make a lot of money" or "I hurt my wrist really really bad and it is still not healed but at least the atmosphere was great". Yes, I met people, who enjoyed the work. I had some moments too. In the mornings, before it gets too hot, with music in my ear, dancing under the trees, picking a fig from time to time. But after 10 hours and 40 degrees... Nah. It really is hard work. Period. And if you're unlucky it really is shit. Everything. I had that as well.
Wonder wonder, I got fired from the shed for showing too much facial expressions. Or something like that. I'll explain that in a different post one day. Human rights weren't really their thing. So for the last week I was back in picking.
Packing was bad for the back but we were hourly paid, at one point (when everyone was too exhausted) we even had 2 shifts, so the day would start at 6am and you'd come home at 2pm (yap, that's a HALF shift...). I really couldn't complain. I mean, the atmosphere was crazy, the breaks very short, we were slaves and treated like, my shoulders and back still hurt but I made money, I had half of the day for myself and the work was doable (see, this is one of the good stories :D).
Back on the field it is a different story (and probably one of the worse ones you'll hear or read about farmwork). So here are the facts:
3,10$ per Box
8-14 hours on the field
take breaks whenever you want, bring food and drinks
35-42 degrees
do not pick split or green fruit.
Trees are empty, as fast as you can be, there is nothing to pick.
Let's watch the reality....

When I started, people were able to pick 20 (really rare = 62$) - 70 (also really rare = 210$) per day. Most people had around 80-100$ per day, 6-7 days a week. If you keep the hours in mind: this is still not minimum wage but it'll do. And you can always nap under the trees.

And then you start to dream about
figs and it's not a good dream...
When I came back to picking after the packing, the average per day was 15-20 boxes. The average. Some people went home with 6 boxes after 10 hours in the sun. That is 18something$ for 10 hours!!! The minimumg wage in Australia is 18.75 after tax PER HOUR! And you get that for much nicer jobs, where you don't come home with a headache, an allergic reaction agains the fig juice and on top someone had yelled at you, thrown figs at you and treated you like a slave. True story.
I think, I don't have to mention, that I already quit and got another job. But after 3 days like that I was close to give a shit about the visa. There is a limit for everything, as important as it is. Hard work: ok. Long work: ok, bad pay: ok... but working the whole day in a shit job, ruining your body and won't even have enough money to pay rent/food... No.
In the end: these stories are true. I thought, it couldn't be that bad and that people were overrating and just acting like princesses. I know better now. But there are good stories too. But you need to find them.
Intense Australian sun 
I think, the funniest thing is, how Australian's expect farmwork to be. They are shocked, when they hear our stories. No Australian would ever work under these conditions. That's exactly why we have this 2nd year visa rule. Australian's agri culture would die without exploitation of backpackers. And the normal Australian basically has no clue. It's almost sweet when they answer "Really? That is not right, why does no one helps you guys?"

I'll travel and make new friends, another Aussie-experience!
YUSSSS. Friends! Unicorns! Lovely souls! For sure. I feel a little like in a movie about slave times. You know, when everyone stands together, because you can only stand your ground against the enemy, when you stand together. We would sing songs on the fiels to warn each other, when the farmer was coming. We would cook for each other, when someone had a longer day than the others, we would share food, baby powder (honestly, this babypowder is amazing!!!) and moments. The best thing about the farmwork is coming home. 
Coming home to the caravan parc, sitting at the pool or at cabin 11, having a BBQ or sharing a cigarette and talking about the bad work. Laughing together. Beautiful. What would I be without those people (once again...)? We're in this together and everyone helps everyone. It's better to laugh about it. It really is. 
Travel and Aussie experience..? Hm Ya, maybe. Some people get the chance, others not. A lot of people are stuck, because they're running out of time and have to work 7 days a week. Some people are more flexible. Some jobs will not let you take any time off, some jobs are only 5 days a week. It really depends.

Farmers have a rough tone.
Yup, they do. Some of them with a smile in the eyes but you still have to deal with it. Some of them hate backpackers with a passion. In every case you need to shut your mouth and just deal with it (did I mentioned that I'm fired...?). To which point, that's up to you. In some cases I even understand the farmers. In some it is ridiculous. I honestly think, if they wouldn't treat us like they do, they would have much better workers. I did care about the work in the beginning. Just because I want to make a good job in general. After several things I stopped caring, if the farm would lose money because of me. In the end it is really sad that so many good people here become egoistic, because that's the only way to survive.
Super motivated people became so frustrated that they just sat on the field instead of picking, because it doesn't even matter if you go home with 15 or 20$. People played soccer with figs, because whatever, it doesn't matter if you destroy two more. People packed shit, because the farmers want you to be fast and you can't control as good as you want when you need to rush... In the end, I don't blame the backpackers here. Everyone I met, was super motivated but the situation was just not helpful, neither were the farmer's tone, the fact that they threw figs at us, yelled at us and didn't even care, when people had to call an ambulance with a broken shoulder or because they collapsed because of exhaustion.
I am sure this doesn't count for every farm. But it does exist.

Contractors and working hostels can help you.
Muhahahahahahaha. Okay, no. There are some good ones. Who really try to find you a jo, who help you out with missing days or boxes. The majority of my experiences were bad. Really really bad. Working hostels and contractors, who couldn't even answer questions about gouvernment requirements, who picked their favorite workers (whoever made enough money) and dropped the other ones, who picked sides of the farms, when backpacker urgently needed help, who lied, who were unfriendly and got you into trouble.
In the end, if good or bad: they all need to earn money too. Understandable. Screwing up backpacker, who are in need of their visa.. Not so understandable for me. 
My favorite sentences from contractors and working hostel staff: 
"Ya I called them last week, we will hear from them"
"I'm on it"
"They said mean things to you..? Just let them talk, one ear in, one ear out"
"I'm just here to help you"
"The other contractor never pays you"
"Well, you have to decide, if you wanna work or not"
"You'll make 6 boxes per hour easily"
"All of my backpacker got their visa granted"
"No this fact is not true, I'll take care of it, don't worry"
If that only would have been true...
Work is done - time to calm down 
In the end I can say: I knew it would be hard work, I knew I would eventually be short on time but I was sure it would be managable. In fact, I still don't know if I'll get my days in time and I'm close to just quit and move to New Zealand after my visa expires. But I met a lot of people in worse situations and quite a lot of them managed it, to get it done. Somehow. So there's hope.
I can't say it's no fun at all, the whole crew here, some good minutes or hours on the field, money comes and goes but so far I'm stable, a lot of new experiences (I can tell you straight away if a pack of figs has more or less than 340g now and that by just lifting it... Valuable skills for my academical career...), a new side of life, a better understanding for people in such situations as exploitation and slavery. I will value "normal" jobs so much more after this and yes, we have fun here. But hell, if this is over, I'll be running.

Experienced bad job situations or farmwork? What are/were your expectations of second year visa work?
Share in the comments below :)

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