September 2019 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine

Many growers rely on overseas workers to fill seasonal labour requirements all around Australia. Many of these overseas workers take advantage of this need by funding their backpacking adventures and getting their ‘88’ days to extend their stay in Australia.

While overseas works only account for 6% of the Australian workforce, they make up 20% of all formal Fair Work disputes. They are also overrepresented in serious cases of exploitation, bonded labour and modern slavery. These workers are often more vulnerable to exploitation due to language barriers, visa status and lack of understanding around workplace rights.

Despite the challenges, correctly managing your overseas workers can result in less injuries, less turnover, happy workers and higher productivity! Fair Farms promotes some policies, procedures and practices that can foster a productive and fruitful relationship with your workers.

Can they work for you?

One of the most important aspects of managing overseas workers is understanding their right to work. Many overseas workers are under visas, which have a variety of restrictions. For example, backpackers under the 417 or 462 visa can only work with one employer for 12 months when working in plant and animal cultivation.

Employers have requirements to ensure every worker on site has the right to work, including workers provided through a Labour Hire Provider. Therefore, it is important you use the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) system to check every worker’s status. It may be useful to keep a calendar of visa expiry dates, and communicate this regularly to staff who create rosters.

Workers’ visa statuses may change at any time, so it is a good idea to check VEVO on a regular basis, not just when they start work.


English is often the second language of overseas workers, so it is important to communicate clearly to ensure workers are kept safe and productive. Some ways to ensure workers understand messages may include:

  • Buddy workers up with others who speak the same language
  • Use pictures and diagrams
  • Australians are renowned for being difficult to understand, so try and talk slowly
  • Check if workers understand, don’t just assume!
  • Download free resources from the Fair Work Ombudsman website in language your workers often speak

Understand your obligations

Overseas workers are entitled to the same pay and benefits as Australian citizens, including Award pay rates, casual loading, superannuation and relevant rights under the National Employment Standard (NES). If you operate under the Seasonal Workers Programme or Pacific Labour Scheme, you will have additional obligations to your workers.

Remember, you may need to be registered with the ATO as an employer of overseas workers and tax those workers in accordance with their visa requirements. For example, 417 and 462 backpacker visa holders must be taxed a flat rate of 15%.