Finding farm work in Australia

Finding farm work in Australia

There comes a time for every backpacker on a working holiday visa in Australia to decide if they want to give up 3-5 months of their first year to secure a second year of living, working and travelling the country. For many people, that is the dream, to stay here as long as possible and be able to see as much as the country has to offer. Unfortunately, by current legislation those on a 417 visa like ourselves, you have to complete 88 days, or 3 calendar months of ‘specified work’ before you will be granted this visa.

The requirements to get your second year visa granted are listed on the immigration website. You must complete the work in listed regional postcodes, and your job role and duties must fall under one of the categories listed. However, one thing that often causes confusion for many, is whether you need to work for 88 days or 3 consecutive months. It can be 3 consecutive months with one employer if your work equates to full time hours that is standard for the industry and you have payslips to reflect this, however what the website fails to detail is what is considered ‘full time hours’ for each industry listed.

There is also an issue when it comes to pay, as farm work is often paid on a ‘piece rate’ meaning you are paid by how much you pick. So you could easily be working more than ‘standard’ full time hours in a week, yet your payslips don’t reflect this as you can’t pick fast enough to earn a decent wage. So in that case, do you work for 3 consecutive months or 88 days?

This leaves most backpackers feeling confused and unsure if they work they are doing even counts. The ideal role would be one earning the casual employee minimum wage (currently set at $22.13) as per the Horticulture pay award, and working for 3 calendar months. Unfortunately that’s much easier said than done, so the safest option I believe is to work for 88 days, maybe even a few more and provide as much evidence as possible you have completed the required work. I will be submitting my contract, piece-rate agreement, payslips, accommodation receipts and bank records to provide as much evidence as possible for my visa to be approved.

The most important thing I’d say here is to start doing your farm work as early as possible in your first year. You don’t know how long it could end up taking you to complete. For us, it will total around 4 1/2 months, so leaving it to three months before your visa is up is a pretty risky move.

As for our story, Emma and I first started looking for farm work up North Queensland way, after our first stint of travelling up the East coast was complete. We tried calling round as many working hostels as we could get numbers for, but were given the same message every time of ‘call back in a few weeks’. As we didn’t have time to hang around without earning anything, we opted to get hospitality jobs and try again later in the year after Adam had arrived in the country. Our second attempt was immediately after New Year, and we managed to find success this time. This time being based in Victoria, we tried contacting as many working hostels as we could find, as well as any other job adverts we came across, applying to everything and anything we could find.

To apply for jobs, we had put together CVs and tried to gear them towards our hard working attitude as much as possible, as none of us had any outdoor manual labour experience at all. But we found that didn’t really matter, so long as you’re willing to work hard they rarely care about any past experience.

After around three full days of searching, I eventually got directed to backpacker jobs board, and found an advert for apple picking in Mooroopna, a small town just outside Shepparton. After applying by email, I quickly decided to try phone instead figuring they would be inundated with emails and was thankfully greeted with the great news that we could arrive the next day and work would be found for us as soon as possible. We were told it could be up to a weeks wait, however we were happy to do this as it would still cost us less than a further week of living in the city. We arrived on the 4th of January, and after settling in for just a few hours we were told we starting work the next day on the 5th.

As for our actual farm work experience, that will follow in the next post, but overall it’s not been the worst thing in the world and I’d recommend this as a fairly good place for people to come and complete their 88 days in Victoria.

Our accommodation is a caravan park, so we have a mix of backpackers staying in tents, camper-vans and cabins built into the site. We thankfully got into one of the cabins as we’d arrived early in the picking season, and that’s where we’ve been living ever since. It has it’s dramas, with a fair few crazy neighbour stories I’ll never forget. But we’ve been very grateful to have our own space, with our own cooking facilities while undertaking farm work so we can come home and relax in privacy. Don’t get me wrong, its great for socialising too, and we have a pool area people often congregate at after their days work. Its great having the option instead of having to be in a 12-16 bed dorm, as seems the norm at working hostels.

Going back to working hostels, the longer I’ve been here the more horror stories I heard about them. Often promising work, taking extortionate rent (up to $200 / week for a large shared dorm), and then having people wait around for weeks on end and only offer them 1 or 2 days work here and there. Some of our friends stayed in a working hostel for 7 weeks and only managed to complete 5 days that could count towards their visa. Others I’ve heard go and don’t manage to get any, then lose their bond when they want to up and leave. So if possible, it seems best to avoid these if you can.

My best tips would be to start looking as early as possible, and don’t give up if you can’t find anything after just a few hours of searching. It does take a long time and your first job might not be right for you, but by allowing extra time to complete your days you can leave it and try again at the next job. If you can find out when the season starts in the area you want to work in, the best bet is to move there early enough to be one of the first lined up for work.

Next up I’ll talk specifically about what work we’ve done in our time here and the highs and lows that come with that.