ORCHARDIST Terry Rossi is concerned Orange’s reputation among seasonal workers could be tarnished and future fruit crops jeopardised following an ongoing payment dispute with an employment contractor now under investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Mr Rossi said he was inundated with workers who had abandoned Pasifika Resources after the lengthy wait for their wages and employed about 15 of them on his orchard to pick cherries.
“I had quite a lot come to me who were employed by that company and a couple were in tears,” he said.
“There’s been so many people who’ve said they worked for that company and haven’t been paid for two to three weeks.”
Mr Rossi said his orchard had a good reputation worldwide among backpackers and seasonal workers and he pays all workers weekly.
But he is worried the wages saga could make it hard to attract workers to Orange in future seasons.
“Word is going to get around. Why come to Orange?” he said.
“It’s really bad for the industry. We won’t be able to get people to pick our fruit.”
Head of the NSW Farmers’ industrial committee and orchardist Peter Darley said only a small number of growers were using contractors but backpackers were likely to only work directly for growers in the future following the pay dispute.
Two backpackers who started working with Mr Darley after the pay dispute are yet to receive the pay slips needed for their work visas with the federal government.
He said many growers had the false belief their responsibilities ended when they employed pickers through contractors.
“I think they feel it takes the stress out of employing pickers ... but growers must cover pickers with their WorkCover,” Mr Darley said.
“If there is an accident it will test the system.
“It’s a shame contractors are putting a black mark on the industry.”
Mr Rossi said there was more rigmarole involved in employing Australian citizens who must prove their identity with a birth certificate or passport than international backpackers.
Mr Darley agreed.
He said there was a shortage of local workers willing to pick because of the changing population and changing attitudes but grey nomads and backpackers picked up the slack.
“It’s hard work but the rewards are very good,” he said.
Mr Darley said the payment dispute was now out of NSW Farmers’ hands but local growers would be made aware of their responsibilities at a meeting in February.
He does not believe it will impact on the apple season or future cherry picking seasons.