Efforts are underway to try to reverse the tarnished reputation of Bundaberg’s fruit and vegetable picking operations.
Illegal workers, overcrowded accommodation and work accidents have been uncovered by a series of audits and reports.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has looked at 40 operations around Bundaberg and Childers in just the past week, and uncovered about 20 breaches.
Principal rural inspector Fiona O’Sullivan said they were mostly about insufficient plant guarding, like shaft covers, belts and pulleys, and chemicals and safe work systems.
She said the figures were on par with what was expected, but some operators had a lot of correcting to do.
“Some businesses are managing health and safety very well, but some growers and some contractors do have a long way to go.”
But it’s not just about on-farm inspections; the agency has used intelligence gathered from hostel audits and backpacker surveys to shape the audit program.
Mrs O’Sullivan couldn’t comment further, but councils and politicians are voicing their concerns.
State Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett says the Queensland Government is recognising the need to crack down on illegal operations.
“We have many many cases where backpackers are being exploited on many levels…. it’s so important that immigration, taxation, and the visa people come together in a concerted effort with the Queensland Police and the state agencies and local government.”
Meanwhile, the Bundaberg Regional Council is investigating a number of properties accused of illegally housing backpackers in overcrowded conditions.
The Building Act allows no more than five unrelated people to live in a dwelling, in line with fire safety standards.
But it’s not all bad – three French backpackers Kevin Pailhes, Antoyne Brette and Thomas Coutureer say they’ve had a good experience in Bundaberg.
“We are always paid hourly, with tax and everything… it is still better than France, the wage,” they said.
But they said sometimes their French heritage attracted criticism.
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