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Commentary: Workers in Australia's apple industry are subjected to insecure employment, low wages, & harsh conditions

Author: James McGee, The Age, Published on: 6 March 2019

"Why I lasted just five weeks working in the apple industry", 3 March 2019

Staff turnover was huge. ..."We need to get rid of someone today, we need to set an example," I was informed by a foreman one morning. I would later see four Frenchmen and a Cambodian sacked on the spot, and a Malaysian sent home for two days, all without any official warning. I was told there was no shortage of workers on agencies' books - they didn't care who stayed as they could always get more.

...Conditions on-site were harsh, with no sunscreen or shade provided. There was one Portaloo among the 30-40 contractors which was filthy and had no water for flushing. The foreign workers rented homes nearby, and conditions in them were squalid, with stories of vermin infestations, faulty showers and flooded toilets....

Prices set by the company were pitifully low - between 90 cents and $4 for each tree depending on the size - and expectations for the quality of work were unreasonably high. It was impossible for most workers to make a living wage. ...Tales of workers being underpaid by their agencies were also the norm.

...Orchard jobs should be among the best in the country. Those who run the industry boast that apple growing techniques have altered little over the past century. However, an area which must move into the 21st century is the treatment of the workers, and it’s not just the wages. Given that the industry revolves around the ever-changing whims of the big supermarkets, they must step up to the plate and be the instigators of this change.

The fruit picking industry is a high-pressure one. Much of this stems from the big supermarkets.Margins are tight, making wages low....


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