Most of my friends, family, and the general public, will look at me inquisitively when I tell them I’m currently doing my “regional work”. If you’re not familiar with the term, you’re not alone. Let me explain it in a nutshell:
- If you are not an Australian citizen and you would like to stay in Australia for a second year after your first year working visa expires, then you have to complete 88 days of some sort of “regional work” within your first year in Australia.
- It’s called regional work because the job has to be located in a rural area.
- The type of work will usually be agricultural based – you’ll be working on a dairy farm or picking fruit for example – or you can do construction/labour jobs.
- You print off an online form and get your employer to sign it as proof that you have completed at least 88 days.
- Send it to the Australian government before your 1st year visa expires.
So that’s a basic explanation similar to the one you can find on the government website. Now for the stuff you might not have heard before:
- It is well known amongst working backpackers that you can find an au pair job or work in a country pub (located in rural areas) if your employer agrees to sign you off on your visa. If you are lucky enough to find a job like this, just be wary that it is not government approved for the second year visa, and you are putting yourself at risk of rejection if the government decides to audit you. The only reason people get away with doing these jobs is because they are based in a regional postcode area, so on paper it looks like you’ve been working on a farm. It’s a sweet deal, but only if it works.
- Some places will sign you off for 7 days a week, even if you have only been working 5 days a week. This is also a sweet deal because it means you only have to work for 3 months instead of 4 months.
- Minimum wage for agricultural work varies from state to state, but it is always over $20 per hour. I think this is pretty great, considering I’m used to earning £7 an hour in the UK.
- And finally – piece rate. It is not your friend. You will no doubt encounter this lousy form of payment if you are working any fruit picking/vineyard job. It essentially means that you will get paid by the bucket/vine. For example, last month we were working in a vineyard on piece rate. The employer decides how much each vine is worth (ranging from about 5c to 100c) and you’ll get paid depending on how many vines you complete per day. So one row with 88 vines worth 30c each = $26.40. But that row might take you up to 3 hours to complete. So that’s the equivalent of $8.80 an hour.
How can they get away with this!?
We often ask ourselves this question. Well, the employer (supposedly) sets the rate in a way that will make it achievable for the employee to earn minimum wage or above. In all fairness, this did work out in my favour at my first vineyard job, as I made around $22 an hour on piece rate. But, when Phil and I started working in a different vineyard halfway across the country doing exactly the same job we both received the equivalent of $9 an hour during our first week. I’m not necessarily going more slowly than before, but the piece rate at this company works to our disadvantage rather than our advantage. In a word, piece rate will set you up for exploitation. No matter how fast you work, you can’t beat the rate that the employer sets, unless it is already a fair one.
BUT…instead of being all doom and gloom about the prospect of selling your soul in a desperate attempt to convince the Australian government that you’re worthy of staying in their country for another year, this blog intends to share with you some of the things I’ve learned through regional work, in the hope that your experience can be a positive one!
Right now, I’m 8 months into my first year working visa, and I’ve had 3 different regional jobs so far, which have all been very mixed experiences – some good, some not so good. Here’s what I wish somebody told me 8 months ago:
- If you have time to play with, be picky about your job choice! You can have a positive experience with regional work if you do your research.
- Be flexible and willing to change your plans. Expand your job search radius and you’ll be rewarded with more choice – it’s also an opportunity to travel!
- Buy a car (we did this of course – but not everyone does!) Most people who are travelling and working around Oz know that a car is the only viable way to explore this huge country. Also, a lot of farm jobs require you to have your own transport to get to/from work without any hassle for them. Even better, get a van/camping set up so you can save money on accommodation.
- Embrace compromise – right now, we have a great set up with free camping on a beautiful farm, hourly wages, clean toilets (fellow campers will appreciate that one), hot showers, and – most importantly – lovely employers! On the down side, we don’t have as many hours as we would like (nearly half the amount we’d hoped for), but we know this is just a short term job, so we are taking the extra time to enjoy our weekends and read lots of books 🙂
- While compromise is important, don’t feel like you have to sell your soul in order to complete regional work. If you’re being treated badly, or you’re being underpaid, move on! Bigger and better things await you…
- Your friends at home probably won’t have any real notion of what you’re going through because it’s so far removed from any job they have done before (myself wholly included in that!) You’ll love nothing more than complaining and laughing about work with your fellow backpacker employees – so make the effort to make new friends at every job!
- Talk to other backpackers about their regional work experience – word of mouth is the best way to find a well-paid and/or rewarding job!
- Remember – you could be cooped up inside at a desk all day, but instead you get to enjoy the sunshine from first thing in the morning! Learn to love the great outdoors.
- And finally, if I had a “dream regional work job”, it would be to help out as a nanny/farm hand for a rural family – if you have enough time to commit to one place for a few months, do it!!! I’ve never heard of people having a bad experience in this kind of role, as it’s a personal and fun job where you get food, accommodation and (usually) some cash every week.
So there you have it – your regional work 101. I’m sure I’ll have a few more tips to add to that list by the time I’ve finally completed my 88 days…
Only 36 days to go!!!
Check out my next blog to find out how Phil and I found ourselves with the title of “nutjobs”.