Concerns for backpackers working in Australia and New Zealand

by Ray Clancy on August 31, 2016

New Zealand and Australia are top destinations for backpackers with visas for both countries allowing them to work during part of their time travelling around.

However, both nations are encouraging backpackers to watch out for rogue employers who exploit young people looking for temporary work with issues including under payments, too long hours, charging large sums for accommodation and even making threats about their visa status.

083116-backpackingIn Australia, for example, an Adelaide hairdressing salon has been fined more than $100,000 and ordered to back pay money to a man and a woman in their 20s from Taiwan who were in the country with a working holiday visa and spoke limited English.

They required them to work a 50 hour week over six days but treated them as independent contractors, paying them an average rate of less than $10.50 an hour when it should have been $17 an hour and $38 for weekends and overtime.

In New Zealand concerns are rising about the exploitation of workers in the wine industry where a recent investigation has uncovered breaches of employment law. The industry is expanding rapidly, creating worker and accommodation shortages.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has warned he will consider sanctions which could include banning employment contractors in the industry recruiting foreign workers.

‘I want these employers to comply voluntarily, but if they don’t there are sanctions, one of which is access to the international labour market. That is a privilege, not a right, and if you abuse that privilege you may lose it,’ Woodhouse said.

He is encouraging greater co-operation between Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate, which comes under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, to make sure employers are meeting minimum standards.

Experts believe that the wine industry needs to employ backpackers in their hundreds to meet demand. One recruiter said that the New Zealand wine industry is thriving and especially in locations such as Blenheim where there is work nearly all year round.

‘Vineyards and wineries are looking for motivated backpackers to help them in the busy months of the vintage,’ he added.

One accommodation provider want to double the area of his campsite, allowing for another 225 people, because of the number of seasonal workers in the area attracted by work in the vineyards.

In Marlborough a labour market survey found that half of the wine companies and all but one labour contractor said they feel there is a shortage of accommodation for workers.

If found that if the number of workers increases by 24% by the 2019/2020 growing season, another 189 houses for permanent workers, 442 beds for casuals and a further 600 seasonal employer approved beds will be needed.

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