Backpackers cautious about returning to Australia now the border is open

The Australian government has re-opened the international border to backpackers, but some say the farming

The Australian government has re-opened the international border to backpackers, but some say the farming industry still has more to do to entice travellers back to its workforce.

Backpackers coming to Australia on a 417 working holiday visa can enter NSW, the ACT and Victoria without quarantining if they meet strict criteria.

That includes proof of vaccination with an approved vaccine or a medical certificate explaining why they are unable to be vaccinated.

Travellers wanting to travel on to other states and territories will have to meet their quarantine requirements.

Given COVID-19 is raging again in Europe, farmers are hoping travellers will come to Australia in droves.

‘Screaming for casual workers’

Chris Stillard, chair of the NSW Farmers Workplace Relations Committee, said there was a severe labour shortage in agriculture.

Chris Stillard (middle) from the NSW Farmers Association said Australian farmers need 110,000 workers.(Supplied: Simon Dallinger Photography)

He said Australia had 110,000 fewer travellers in the country and he wanted the government to process the visa applications as quickly as possible. 

Preference for backpackers

Gary Godwill, an orchardist near Shepparton, north-east Victoria, said he preferred to employ backpackers because he they were smart and motivated.

He said workers could make up to $250 a day if they picked enough apples. 

“I’ve had couples bringing in 20 bins a day … at $40 a bin they’re very happy [and] I’m very happy because I’ve got a perishable commodity on the tree and I want it off in time.”

Shepparton fruit grower Gary Godwill
Fruit grower Gary Godwill is keen to see backpackers working in Australia again. (ABC Rural: Warwick Long)

Backpackers unhappy with working holiday

For two young German backpackers, Kira Heythekker and Melina Adolphs, looking for seasonal work in Australia was a really frustrating experience. 

They travelled up the east coast to Queensland on the promise of work from a backpacker hostel. 

Ms Adolphs said it was a really hard trip.

Melina Adolphs picking apples on a ladder
Melina Adolphs was told she would be paid an hourly rate, only to find her employer paid piece rates instead, leaving her with just $50 for a ten hour shift.(Supplied: Melina Adolphs)

“A lot of stress, trains and a lot of money, [and] we paid $200 a week for the accommodation.”

They were offered work at a lemon farm but rain stopped the picking and they got nothing else for two weeks.

They decided to call farmers directly to find work.

“We got a job near Melbourne and we drove for 24 hours and they told us we’d be paid by the hour,” said Ms Adolphs.

Instead they were paid piece rates.

Backpacker Kira Heythekker next to a bin of apples
German backpacker Kira Heythekker wasn’t happy with her experience with picking apples.(Supplied: Kira Heythekke)

Ms Heythekker said they were paid just $50 a bin.

“We picked just two bins, it was really hot and we worked for ten hours.”

Dodgy labour hire firms a deterrent

Ms Heythekker and Ms Adolphs said they didn’t find enough work to get their visa extension and went back to Germany via South East Asia where it is cheaper to travel.

Ms Adolphs said they tried to get back some of the tax they paid while working in Australia, only to discover the employer had not delivered it to the Government. 

Backpackers were taxed at a higher level than Australians up until recently when a court case overturned that arrangement. 

Europe restrictions still in place

So with the borders open, less tax to pay and a minimum wage for piece work will backpackers come from places like Germany?

Ms Heythekker said she don’t think too many people will travel yet due to COVID restrictions.

If backpackers don’t come despite the Australia border being opened, Chris Stillard said he will be disappointed as there is plenty of work.

“I’ve got a list as long as my arm of people I know that would love to employ people on their property and they’d get the wage they deserve.”