Union cautious about unpaid labour conditions of willing workers on organic farms scheme

By Xavier La Canna and Rick Hind

Updated Fri 3 Jan 2014, 9:33am AEDT

A union representing workers in the Northern Territory has raised concerns about the willing workers on organic farms scheme, known as Wwoofing.

The scheme is popular with backpackers who trade their labour for food and accommodation and need to work for 88 days in a rural area to qualify for a second working holiday visa in Australia.

United Voice union spokesman Matt Gardiner says the scheme can work if it is not undercutting paid workers, and the Wwoof organisation ensures unpaid workers are protected.

“If an employee [says] you can get a free labour source, I do not know many employers who would say no,” he said.

“But … it should be done responsibly and policed through the organisation.”

He says the farms must have insurance for its workers and have a workers’ compensation scheme in place.

Mr Gardiner says he has heard complaints about substandard food and accommodation from backpackers participating in the scheme.

He says Wwoofers exchange their labour for food and a place to stay, and employers need to ensure both are adequate.

“[Some are] staying in dilapidated humpies rather than actually proper accommodation,” he said.

“They do not actually have access to good food all of the time, or the food might not be to the standard they are used to.

“If you are giving up labour for these things, you expect to actually get a decent return for that labour.”

Traci Wilson-Brown from Wwoof Australia says her organisation receives a tiny number of complaints.

She says Wwoofers are covered by insurance for up to $10,000 but has never heard of a claim anywhere near that.

“There are a lot of people who call what they are doing Wwoofing, without being registered, and we can’t police that,” she said.

” Where they are [registered] we expect them to follow our guidelines.

“When they are not and we have complaints about them, we follow them up.”

Ms Wilson-Brown says people wanting to participate in the Wwoof scheme should check that farms are registered.