A Farm Life Nightmare: “I don’t live, I just survive”

Grading tomatoes
What should have been a great Australian experience has turned into an unforgettable nightmare for several backpackers including myself.  I arrived in Australia on a Working Holiday visa (subclass 417). This specific visa means I can apply to stay down-under for a second year after completing 3 months of specific work in regional Australia.  This includes working in plant and animal cultivation, fishing and pearling, tree farming and felling, mining or construction. I found work in plant cultivation which involved working in the packing shed of a tomato farm in Bowen, Queensland. I worked in this shed for almost 6 weeks and like most backpackers we worked there through a contractor.
Packing tomatoes
This is typical as farms usually get contractors to act as a middle man between the farm owner and worker. It is then the contractors duty to ensure all workers are treated fairly, receive payslips and most importantly paid!  But for me and the other people I worked with in the shed, the latter was somehow missed off that list.  Payments were often delayed by one or two weeks. Until eventually the payments stopped coming through altogether. I’m still waiting to be paid around $1,800 and it’s been nearly two months!  (Bear in mind we’re supposed to get paid weekly over here.) The tomato packing shed has since closed its doors for the season and the contractor has done a disappearing act. The contractor in question, Selim Yaman employed me through his company SY4. He has been contacted several times by myself and other backpackers, but not once have I got a reply or phone call back to the messages and calls I have left him. Fairwork, Australia’s workplace for right and rules are now investigating the case and helping to resolve the issue. This comes after several of us raised the dispute about Mr Yaman not paying us.
Tomatoes rolling off the belt
Two other British girls like myself are also still waiting to be paid. Maddy and Phoebe both began working in the tomato packing shed towards the start of the season. The contractor has yet to pay them $1,200 each.   Phoebe comments:
“Now we have 100 dollars each and we don’t know how we will have money to travel West [Australia] and eat! We are living of our parents and we shouldn’t be in this situation!”
Spanish girls, Mamen and Laia are two other girls who have also been victim of underpayment from Mr Yaman. They are currently awaiting payments of more than $1,400 each. Deeply frustrated and angered with the situation, Mamen said:
“I don’t understand how someone can sleep after knowing that he owes that quantity of money. Money for the hours of our life that we spent working there.”
Meanwhile, Megan and Chris, a couple from Britain are owed $1,200. Megan says:
“We’ve felt violated that we did these jobs in good faith, to be completely undervalued by people who continuously promised they would do right by us.”
As well, another backpacker is waiting for his payment of around $1,800. Speaking with Alex he said:
“One of my roommates asked me how I live, I told her I don’t live, I just survive.”
The 25 year old from Germany is currently living in Melbourne looking for work. For all of us who have still not been paid for our work at SY4 in Bowen, we are all deeply disappointed. From the workers I spoke with, it appears that Mr Selim Yaman owes payments totalling more than $10,000. Many of us have been left to scrape money together to get by and it’s not the nicest way to go into the new year. We worked hard and had every belief in our contractor to pay us for our efforts.  On 28th December 2018 I contacted Selim Yaman giving him the right to reply to my dispute. To this day (04/01/2019) I have not yet had any correspondence from him. Fairwork have been very helpful in trying to resolve this matter for myself and the other backpackers who have also got in contact with them.  I want to make it very clear my matter is strictly with the contractor. With regards to the farm we worked on, there is not much they can do because we weren’t employed by them, nor were we paid by them directly. The packing shed was actually really nice to work at, so it’s a huge shame that my good memories of the time I worked there will be tainted because of the contractor who I was employed by. 
Packing tomatoes
Now, if you’re a backpacker looking for farm work to complete your 88 days, do so with precaution. Be mindful, know your rights, keep track of all the days and hours you worked – including break and lunch times. Also if you can, taking photos of time sheets would be extra helpful. In hindsight I wish I had done the latter. And keep all text messages between you and the contractor as proof or evidence.  Basically just keep a record of EVERYTHING because you don’t want to be $1,800 out of pocket like me. But let’s hope that changes soon! Now don’t let this little horror story put you off from doing your farm work. I’ve since found another farm and I’m working there packing cherries. Again the work is through a contractor, but this time I’ve been more cautious and asked a tonne of questions before starting any work. The job is great and the people I work with are really lovely.  If you’ve got any advice for me please let me know. Or if you’ve shared a similar experience leave me a comment below or send an email to globetrottermaya@gmail.com Useful links: Fairwork  Australian Work Visas And if anything changes with my situation I’ll be sure to do an update on here! Thanks for stopping by!  Maya ❤️
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