Silver Raudsepp, Reily Tammeparg, Rein Vahur, Jonathan Mantouani, Andrea Zanelli, Federico Marcelli, Naomi Tutone are concerned about they way they have been treated in Bundaberg.
Silver Raudsepp, Reily Tammeparg, Rein Vahur, Jonathan Mantouani, Andrea Zanelli, Federico Marcelli, Naomi Tutone are concerned about they way they have been treated in Bundaberg. Mike Knott

Bundy backpackers say 'enough'

FOREIGN fruit pickers are fed up at the living and working conditions they cop in the Bundaberg region, likening it to "slavery".

Seven backpackers have come forward with a list of claims to the NewsMail, including:

  • paying more up front than they were earning in picking wages;
  • being paid less than the hours they were entitled to;
  • being refused water by work supervisors, who constantly shouted at and abused them;
  • being forced to lie on an incident report after a machinery accident.

The travellers, who were all staying at East Bundaberg Backpackers before moving to a new hostel, were working on a tomato farm owned by SP Exports, but were employed by a work subcontractor called "Max", who would not reveal his surname.

SP Exports managing director Andrew Philip has promised to investigate the allegations further, but East Bundaberg Backpackers owner Cali Posun said she operated similarly to most hostels in town.

The tourists had to pay $161 a week for a 16-person dorm room and $42 for bus travel to and from the farm, in return for guaranteed work.

But they claim they are now financially worse off than when they arrived in Bundaberg.

Estonian traveller Rein Vahur said he felt like a "slave" while staying at the hostel and working on a Childers tomato farm.

"They tell us they can guarantee at least three days of work, but sometimes that is only two hours," Mr Vahur said.

"And you never get your right pay. You always need to fight to get your money."

Fellow Estonian Silver Raudsepp said he was fed up with constant threats from supervisors.

"We get screamed at all day like we are animals," he said.

"They just keep yelling constantly saying, 'work faster', 'pick harder', 'open the bushes', 'use two hands'. They always say they will sack us if we don't hurry up."

Mr Raudsepp said he knew of five backpackers who were fired because they pestered their supervisor for water after five hours without it.

Italian backpacker Naomi Tutone claimed one particular day she and another female traveller were sitting on a picking tractor, with seats on two mechanical arms, when a supervisor hit a button that brought the arms up suddenly.

The women were thrown off the seats, falling about three metres to the ground.

"The other girl called the insurance people and she was fired and made to leave the hostel," Ms Tutone said.

"A man came to me and asked me to fill out a report and said to me: 'If you say nobody said to you about the emergency button, there will be big trouble.'

"I was afraid to lose work, so I wrote, 'Yes, the supervisor showed me the button'. But I was in panic."

East Bundaberg Backpackers owner Cali Posun, who also owns the Panda Motel in Childers, said travellers were aware of how the job worked when they began.

"I've heard people complain about the work, but if they don't like it they can leave," she said.

"Every hostel in this town runs exactly the same."

Ms Posun said the pay issues were not a problem.

"(The farm contractors) have around 200 employees and some names are very hard to read," she said.

"Pay issues are usually resolved."

"Max" disputed many of the allegations.

He said there was a water tank at the farm and he claimed supervisors would fill backpackers' water bottles "if they were on the machine".

Max said the constant yelling was necessary to make the backpackers work.

"They need to be told what to do," he said.

He also disputed Ms Tutone was told to lie on her incident report, adding, in reference to her companion: "I thought she got WorkCover for that."

SP Exports managing director Andrew Philip said he would investigate the accusations.

"I am not aware of any of this but I would encourage the backpackers to go to the ombudsman. We will certainly be looking into this very seriously," he said.

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