Employing young staff - working holiday makers (backpackers)

By Paddy Weir, Allambi station

In Australia, ‘backpacker’ is a colloquial term for young international travellers that are able to work in Australia under working holidaymaker (417) or work and holiday maker (462) visas. This system is one of cultural exchange and is reciprocated for young Australians who want to work overseas in countries where Australia has a relationship. Backpackers need to work for 88 days in regional Australia to enable them to apply for a visa to stay in Australia for an additional year. From July 2019, a backpacker can be granted a third year travelling and working in Australia by completing another six months of work in regional Australia in their second year.  If a backpacker has to live on a property to work, every day they are employed counts as days towards their work requirement, even if they are actively working or not.

Since early 2016 NT pastoralists (and North of the Tropic of Capricorn in WA and Qld) are able to employ backpackers for the entirety of their visa; previously they were only able to stay with one employer for 6 months. To enable an employee to stay longer there is a document that has to be filled in and sent to the Immigration Department notifying them of the extended work stay.  There is no charge for this process. The form number is 1445 ‘Request Permission to work with an employer beyond 6 months on a Working Holiday or Work and Holiday Visa’ and is available on the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Website.

Since the new rules came in, we have been able to offer backpackers more work if they are willing and able to stay. Because our cattle work is seasonal and a backpacker wants to travel (as well as fund their travels) it can be a win-win situation. We have had several backpackers return to work for us and it is good for business to have reliable workers that do not need to be re-trained. We have had staff with a variety of backgrounds including hospitality, electrical, nurses, teachers, builders and mechanics.

It makes good sense then, to spend some time developing a good job advertisement (Facebook, Gumtree, Backpacker Jobs Australia to name a few); a job description and an Employee Handbook (for induction purposes). Organisations such as the NT Farmers Federation or the NT Chamber of Commerce often run short courses on many different aspects of managing staff.

After more than two decades working alongside young people my mantra is ‘honesty is the best policy’. It is good idea to have a code of conduct – for both employers and staff.  A good supervisor is able to foster a friendly workplace where people feel good about their job, work safely, productively and are open to learning. Gone are the days of the ‘don’t do what I do, do what I tell you’ attitude. To get the best from myself and our workers I ask for:

Accountability: If you make a mistake, please own it, not saying something will just make things much worse.

Ability to inspire: Never ask someone to do something you would not do yourself or have not done yourself.

Communication: is the key. If you are worried about something or do not understand what you are meant to be doing, always double check to prevent mistakes or accidents.

A positive attitude is immeasurable.  We have had workers that are quite capable of doing the job but their negative attitude has brought team morale down. If you are not having a good day, it is okay to be honest and say why.

Continual learning from each other makes for a better team work environment.

Treat others as you would like to be treated: As both a Mum and supervisor of young staff, I always think ‘how would I like my child treated by an employer?’  With honesty, fairness, firmness, and a daily exchange of teaching and learning.   This includes having the difficult conversations when someone has made a mistake.

Over the years I have heard a few disturbing stories about how unfairly some of the young Working Holiday Makers have been treated.  This includes not being paid superannuation (which incidentally the government now takes 65% of when the WHM leaves the country) to unreasonable working hours for rate of pay. In the past 12 months alone we have had two young couples that were paid only $450 gross for a 55 hour plus working week (one couple worked on a farm in Victoria, the other on a farm in NSW).  When I asked why they stayed, they said they were desperate for their 88 days and that social media is full of stories of people unable to find farm work and having to return home. In one instance the workers were not provided pay slips for more than three months work and have been forced to report this to the Fair Work Ombudsman. Travellers should not miss out on their second year visa due to an unscrupulous employer.

For further information regarding employing staff the Fair Work Ombudsman website has plenty of information regarding workers entitlements and also templates for employee contracts. Members of the NTCA are provided any amendments to the NT Pastoral Award via email in July each year.

If you need to check the status of a worker’s visa then Visa Entitlement Verification Online system (VEVO) allows visa holders, employers, education providers and other organisations to check visa conditions (Immigration Department Website).

Last updated: 28 September 2020

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