Every year, Australia is flooded with backpackers working and travelling down under.
And for a lot of backpackers, farm work is part of the package – to get a visa for a second year in Australia, backpackers need to complete 88 days work in the construction, farming or mining industry.
The most popular choice among young backpackers is farm work. But now, one backpacker has shone a light on what can, and has, happened to backpackers during their farm work.
French backpacker Ludmilla Cek told the ABC that she posted an ad online looking for farm work, and received a promising response from a farmer in Queensland.
“It was four hours’ driving from Brisbane, in the middle of nowhere,” she told 7.30.
However, when she got to the house, it was not as she expected.
“When I arrived, I found a really dirty house with a really dirty farmer.
“I had a shower at night, and he came into the bathroom when I was in the shower. He knocked and I said, ‘I’m having a shower, don’t come in’, but he came in anyway.”
Although the farmer didn’t touch or look at Cek, she was understandably terrified by the incident and took to Facebook to get more information on the farm.
“I was so scared of him I posted on Facebook to ask if someone knew the farm, or anything about him and I heard a lot of bad things,” she said.
“I heard about a girl who was here four days before me who was a victim of sexual assault. He tried to remove her bra, he tried to put his hand down her pants.”
After sleeping with a knife under her pillow for protection, Cek called the police the next day to help get her away from the property, which was completely remote.
Cek never completed her 88 days of work, but last year, nearly 33,000 backpackers did – and were subsequently given a second-year visa.
94 per cent of those backpackers worked on farms, and industry group Growcom has since told the ABC that there are some issues in the industry for backpackers.
The company represents Queensland horticulture, and the group’s chief advocate, Rachel Mackenzie, said that for the most part, backpackers and farmers have great relationships.
“We have lots of examples of where backpackers and the growers have a great relationship,” she said.
“Unfortunately there are some growers who spoil it for everyone. Our workforce has a tendency towards being vulnerable because it’s seasonal, short-term and casual.”
Last year, a Senate investigation uncovered allegations that the conditions for backpackers in Australia were “slavery-like” and promoted “exploitation” – sparking a review of the 88-day program.
Mackenzie added that part of the problem was that backpackers might not be the best fit for the farming industry, despite growers needing seasonal employees.
“We have a whole bunch of people who don’t necessarily want to work in agriculture who feel forced to be working in agriculture,” she said.
“They take the jobs that are available and don’t do their due diligence and I do think that some of them have no idea about what it’s actually like to work on a farm.
“It has been a really neat fit for backpackers with the 88 days and we don’t want to see that taken away but I think we need to look for a longer-term solution.”