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Just what is happening with those PNG fruit pickers?


Rose pay slip editedONE THING CAN BE STATED for sure and for certain. Rose and Peter Kranz aren’t at all happy with the Melanesian and Pacific Islander seasonal fruit-picker scheme

The scheme, introduced last year after much toing and froing by the Australian government, provides short-term contract labour for Australian farmers and income opportunities for people from PNG and the Pacific.

PNG Attitude has previously reported on problems with the scheme, but now they seem even more serious than they seemed a couple of months back.

Rose Kranz, from the Simbu Province in Papua New Guinea, returned home the other day after three months work at a fruit-growing property in north-west Victoria.

The return home was sullied by Rose having to fork out $250 for the taxi fare from the farm to the nearest bus station after her employer was adamant that "our transport can't be used for personal trips".

This was after Rose had explained she needed to return home urgently for the haus krai as her step-father, Joe Bemu, had just died in Bougainville.

“So much for compassion at Easter,” remarked Peter Kranz.

Rose was engaged in piece-work and, if it was determined that the weather or fruit conditions were not right for picking, she and her co-workers earned nothing but, of course, still had to meet their expenses.

There were no toilet facilities at the picking site and, when Rose complained, she was directed to “just go behind some bushes”.

Not the kind of hospitality we normally associate with Australian rural life.

Fruit picking countryBut the overarching issue concerns the financial arrangements that underpin the scheme, causing PNG Attitude to wonder whether there may be abuses of naïve and vulnerable Pacific labour under a program endorsed by the Australian government.

Rose’s final payslips, one of which is reproduced at the top of this story with the employer’s name obscured, show she netted around $1,800 for three months work after deductions were made for items including an accommodation bond, the rent of an old caravan, electricity, 'uniforms' and transport.

You'll notice the payslip is in another person's name, which has been crossed out and had ‘Rose’ inserted in its place. A little less formality than would usually be required by the Australian Taxation Office.

The slips also show Rose’s year-to-date total income to be more than $9,000 – despite the fact she has never worked in Australia before.

Her total income this year is, in fact, the $1,800 she earned from fruit picking

The slips show Rose making superannuation contributions - but she says she has no knowledge of belonging to a superannuation fund.

They also show her paying tax, but in the other person's name.

As Peter Kranz asks, “What is going on here?”

“My wife was a legitimate worker on a permanent spouse subclass 801 visa, was looking to earn a reasonable income and was prepared to work hard for it,” Kranz told me.

“This was her first job in Australia, and she is extremely disillusioned with her experiences of fruit picking and the BS of employment contractors.”

And $1,800 doesn’t seem much return for three months work when the Workstay website claims “the average hourly rate of pay for [casual] horticulture work is currently between $15 and $20 per hour. Many fruit picking jobs are paid at piece rates - also called ‘contract’ - which allows you to make better than the average hourly rate once you've got your speed up.”

Kranz says he is “feeling out of my depth” about the issues involved.

It seems like a job for the ATO and Fair Work Australia as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs. And one could also ask what the Australian Workers Union is doing. And new parliamentary secretary, Matt Thistlethwaite.

PNG Attitude is not suggesting Rose Kranz’s erstwhile employers have breached any laws – but there are at least some untidy threads here that need sorting out.


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Bernard Corden

Dear Paul,

Please read the following:

Paul Gene

Hi! I wanted to express my interest to be a fruit picker in Australia. Please would you select me to go by calling me on this numbers 76028212 / 73953019. I am very very interested!

Peter Kranz

You can catch up on the Four Corners report here.

It's pretty confronting, but should be watched by anyone contemplating fruit picking in Australia.

And the 'contract labour' scam extends way beyond these industries as Rose can attest having being conned to work as a cleaner for our local Country Club for around $3 an hour.

Peter Kranz

An update. ABC's Four Corners has revealed widespread exploitation and slave-labour conditions for migrant workers in fruit and vegetable farms across Australia.

Conclusive evidence of extreme labour exploitation, slave-like conditions and black market labour gangs has been found on farms and in factories supplying Australia's biggest supermarkets and fast food chains.

A Four Corners investigation has revealed the food being picked, packed and processed by exploited workers is being sold to consumers nationwide. The supermarkets involved include Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, IGA and Costco.

Fast food outlets KFC and Red Rooster are also implicated. Four Corners understands a third major fast food chain is also involved.

The foods tainted by exploitation include a wide variety of vegetables and poultry products, with some of the biggest brand names set to be named.

Migrant workers from Asia and Europe are being routinely abused, harassed and assaulted at work, the Four Corners investigation found. Women are also being targeted sexually, with women being propositioned for sex and asked to perform sexual favours in exchange for visas.

The shocking forms of exploitation are all accompanied by the gross underpayment of wages, with potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen pay going missing every year.

A scam is being run by unscrupulous labour hire contractors - dodgy middle men who sell groups of cut-price migrant workers to farms and factories producing fresh food across the country.

The migrant workers enter Australia legally on 417 working holiday visas, which were designed as a cultural exchange program.

Rose and her friends experienced this in Mildura two years ago. Why has nothing been done?

Gwendalene Lawrence Loeme


I am interested in fruit picking, please could you be able to email me the application forms

many Thanks

Philip Fitzpatrick

I think Bundaberg is, in fact, the biggest producing area Peter.

They seem to be treating back backers and fruit pickers like kanakas.

Nothing changes.

Peter Kranz

The overseas fruit pickers scam has at last been taken up by the Fair Work Ombudsman as reported by the ABC. We reported this over a year ago.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman is preparing to launch an investigation into claims backpackers employed as fruit pickers in one of the country's biggest food producing regions are being underpaid by labour hire contractors and forced to live in illegal budget accommodation."

Peter Kranz

Oh bugger, I can't resist. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker -

You can lead a horticulture but you can't make him eat.

And that aphoristic afterthought was 'peterkranz' if ever I saw one - KJ

Peter Kranz

An update. Rorts and illegal employment are apparently common (as Rose found to her cost) -

"Employment agents blame illegal workers for flooding the market and say red tape is preventing honest food producers from finding workers in time for harvest.

The Seasonal Workers Program allows employers to hire workers from eight Pacific nations and East Timor, if they cannot find local Australian employees.

The Federal Government allocated 12,000 places in the four years to July 2016 but in the first year, only 1,473 workers were placed in horticulture jobs and 19 in accommodation."

"Many food producers find it hard competing with those employing illegal workers.

"Illegal workers are prepared to receive $10 an hour, you don't have to pay tax, mum's the word,"

Mrs Barbara Short

PNG people may not know that many of our fruit farmers are facing ruin.

The value of our dollar is very high at the moment. The supermarkets can buy fruit from overseas countries more cheaply than buying Australian fruit.

If they do offer to buy the Australian fruit then they don't offer a price high enough to pay the fruit farmer very much money. He is then unable to pay high wages to his fruit pickers.

Many fruit farmers are just letting the fruit fall on the ground and rot. They can't afford to hire people to pick it.

It is a tragedy caused by the market forces which are beyond the control of the farmer.

The high value of the dollar means Australian can buy foreign currencies more cheaply and can then buy overseas goods more cheaply. This is affecting the Australian economy in various ways and one is the fruit farmers.

Beatrice Yokondo

Looks to me like it`s cheap labour. Working and sweating out there only to be ripped off.

People should really think seriously about this,before going out there. Now we know what it`s like out there. Some of the things do not add up.

And I thought our neighbour would play fair!

Harry Topham

Peter - In this crazy world we live in where the almighty dollar predominates, rationalisation of the workforce seems to have returned to the bad old days of management whereby workers were treated as work units and their productivity measured by the amount of units per day they produced.

This is commonly referred to as scientific management as postulated by Frederick Taylor, who wrote back in the 19th century: "In the past man was first. In the future the system will be first."

Over my previous working life, I worked under just about all types of management approaches ranging from the hierarchical to the laisse faire models.

In the later part of my career, I found myself back working under the scientific model as a contractor working under a 50% commission basis and paying all costs and accepting responsibility of risks involved including the mandatory requirement of having professional indemnity cover.

The company who engaged my services had over a very brief time by utilising this system managed to grow to such a level whereby it was one of the six national companies providing the services required.

Eventually, like all businesses that reach their ultimate aggregation wealth level, another of the major provider companies bought out company further entrenching the monopoly situation.

“Burn and churn” work was the common name given to the type of work provided, “Burn rubber and churn out work” with little regard given to the effects of burn out that resulted from this type of unsustainable work practices.

To achieve any expectation of making a reasonable living meant that a high volume of output was needed.

In comparison of private enterprise to the public sector the following anecdote elucidates.

On one occasion, when visiting a client, she enquired how many jobs I did a day to which I replied: "Five on average, 10 on a good day” which drew the reply: “My husband is also a valuer who works for the government and he would be lucky to do one job a week”.

On reflection I should have perhaps have stayed with the government even if I would have had to endure the endless time and motion studies and banalities of the associated management by objectives styles but Ned Kelly was quoted as saying “ Such is life”.

Peter Kranz

You are probably right Harry. It's a bit liking paying your neighbour $50 to mow the lawn. It doesn't go through the books and is part of the black economy (no pun intended).

But I believe it is happening to the Pacific seasonal workers as well as the itinerants. The conditions were no different.

And it isn't the farmers, but the contract labour agencies who supply workers to farms over a large area and get a lump sum payment for this with not too many questions asked.

Harry Topham

Peter - I think the misunderstanding probably arose because of a lack of provision of a tax file number perhaps?

From people I know that have done the fruit picking tour it seems that fruit picking is a bit like shearing, that is it is extremely well organised with gangs of gun pickers travelling in packs with their own accommodation in tow thus getting the best harvests and money whilst what remains, the lesser pickings are merely the crumbs left over.

Peter Kranz

Matt - We explained that she is a permanent Australian resident and was thus classed as an itinerant worker, but many of the other workers she was working and staying with were here under the Pacific seasonal worker program, many from Tonga and Samoa and some from PNG and Vanuatu.

Are you saying Pacific seasonal workers are treated better than Australian residents?

Matt Thistlethwaite ‏@MThistlethwaite

From Twitter ---

@PNGAttitude Person referenced in your article has not participated in the Seasonal Worker Program.
Nonetheless you raise points of concern.

@PNGAttitude The Seasonal Worker Program is a valuable initiative & I look forward to discussing this with our regional neighbours.

Kaludia Pirit

For Australians to fool those PNG citizens is a bit amazing!.

Why was Rose Kranz getting paid with someone else's pay slip?

I thought Australia wasa well developed nation in terms of their economy unlike PNG so why are they fooling Melanesians and Pacific islanders like this?

It's a bit funny, maybe they thought Rose was an Aborigine.

Nevegapa Abeya Sam

Let's forget all about fruit pickers in Australia. From the people who have been there and already experienced the conditions, we know that their conditions are not good.

So forget about it. Let's work in our country to develop our country. Forget about them. Australians are greedy people.

Mrs Barbara Short

Some of my relatives live in an apple growing area. They tell me that, due to the fact that the price of apples is very low, the fruit pickers are given a tough time. They charge a lot for accommodation and it is not good.

Mr Thistlewaithe certainly needs to do some homework to check if the PNG workers are being well looked after.

Zenitram Dee

I hope such stories needs more publicity so that some of the Papua New Guineans who don't know and are currently preparing to go down south to become fruit pickers can read about it and decide whether to go or stay back.

Because currently many people thought that life and situation down there is much better than here and they are planning to go.

Robert Jikavi

Thanks Keith for writing about this problem faced by our people.

As a citizen of Papua New Guinea, it is very sad to hear of such a problem faced by our people.

If Australia wants Melanesian and Pacific Islanders for the seasonal fruit picker scheme, then they must pay them properly and also treat them equally as human beings.

The Australian farm owners treat fruit pickers not as labour but, from what I read this article, they treat them as slaves.

I strongly encourage Peter and Rose Kranz to take this matter to ATO and Fair Work Australia as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs, with the pay slips, for official complaint.

From my point of view, why should people from Papua New Guinea waste time to become labour for another country.

What about our own country. Our land is tropical with fertile soil. If we grow food on our own land and sell it, I think we will earn more than to become fruit pickers.

Frank Martin

Looking at trhe payslip I would say that the amount of super paid to Sun Super was Rose's money paid to someone elses account.

It is not shown as earnings because the employer has to pay it under compulsory super legislation.

Rose should have a super account with the total of all the amounts shown on the payslips and she should have been advised of the amount and the name and address of the superannuation company.

Frank Martin

I would think that if this is a rort that it has to do with the compulsorty 9% employers contribution for superannuation i.e $31.

If it was done to all New Guineans employed over the 13 week period it would it would amount to a considerale sum i.e. 31 x 13 x ?.

I would suggest Rose and Peter take all the slips to the nearest ATO office and make an official complaint.

Peter Kranz

Thanks Keith for writing this up. I sense a major scam.

Questions to be asked - why would a contract agency use false names for employees?

It should be noted that Rose was not employed under the Pacific seasonal worker scheme, but as she was from Australia was seen as an itinerant worker, like many backpackers, students and others.

Maybe there are benefits to be gained from minimising the number of workers on the payroll for official purposes? Less bother with TFN's, deductions or workers rights, and most disappear after the picking season.

But I wonder what happened to the officially registered worker whom the contractor used for paying Rose?

Is it just a 'flag of convenience'?

Robin Lillicrapp

Relevant piece this morning on Today Show. Ross Greenwood in "Money Minute" segment critiques role of labour recruitment companies being paid highly for each worker.

In turn, by the time the agency got $400 per day for each Indonesian oil-rig worker, and other middle management agencies in the chain got their cut, the workers netted only 10% or $40 per day.

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