Someone else drove the tractor along the grape rows and i had to follow behind the moving tractor. As i walked along the row with the tractor, i have to pick up the box (filled with grapes, that weighs about 20kg) and load them onto the rear pallet. There would be 40 boxes on 1 tractor. each time we move go into the farm with, i would drive one and my friend would drive one. Because she is a lady and she will do all the driving while i do all the loading.
The farm owners do not engage workers directly. They will usually go through a workers agency contractor to get manpower for the required work for the day. In this way, the farm does not have any responsibility for the workers that worked in their farm even there isn’t any job.
Farm job is seasonal and daily based. There will be someone to check on the fruits or vegetable if it is ready to be picked for the day. They will also check on the price for the market if after picking the selling price would be profitable.
The farm owner will pay the contractors a$16/hr per worker. The contractor will pay the workers a$12-13 per hour of work. The contractor does not have much responsibility with the worker. All they do is arrange a place for the workers to stay, which the workers had to pay rental themselves. Sometimes the contractor will pick up the workers to supermarket to stock up food. So what does the worker do?
The workers would usually stay in a lousy living condition without proper drinking water and pay a$40-75 per week. They would need the contractors to ferry them to supermarket to buy food and stock up (at the worker’s own cost). The worker would need to cook and wash for themselves. The worker would wait at home to wait for the contractor’s phone call for job on the next day. If there is job on the next day, the worker would prepare lunch box for the next day. During summer, workers need to wake up as early as 430am to prepare for the 6am job. The contractor would fetch them from home to work (it cost the workers a$5 per day for transport from home to work).
Reaching the work place, the worker would follow instructions from the farm supervisor. Work includes:
Fruit/vegetable picking (fruits like nectarine, zucchini, tomatoes, chilli, prune, peach, grapes etc…)
Planting preparation like laying plastic for zucchini, irrigation fixing, weeding, seed implanting, tree pruning, tree thinning, flowers thinning.
Please note that the above work are under extreme conditions where temperature may go up to 40 degrees Celsius and at least 20 flies would ALWAYS be around their ears and neck.
Delivery process like loading grape boxes (20kg each and need to stack up to 2 meters high), driving the fully loaded tractor (easiest), sorting out sizes of fruits and vegetables into clean boxes for sales.
Well, a$13/hour may sound a lot for such jobs. Most of the workers we met are from Malaysia, which their visa had expired and still struggling here to work. Some weeks they have totally NO work and still have to pay rental and buy food and they have no income. I felt very upset about them where they have to leave their own country, where their friends and family are, to this shitty place just for the money. The workers do not have any life, unlike back at home. All they do is to work, go home, shower, cook, wash up, watch a bit of TV (if available) and sleep early to prepare for the next day’s hard work. Why would they leave home and seek for better $$$? It lead me to think about our forefather and the foreign workers in Singapore.
They are afraid of the authorities to hold up with them, they lived a life of fear here but yet, they still need to work for the money which they could not get in their country, in Malaysia. Some young workers even lied to their parents that they come to Australia for studies but they have to keep this lie forever. We also met a Malaysian student that was studying in one of the university here, working in the farm. He needed to pay a$80,000 school fees for the 4 years degree course. That excluded the living cost. We also met an aunt of a famous Asian Singer here. She had to come here to work because living standard in Malaysia is incomparable with the earnings and spending. We met talented supervisor (from Malaysia Sabah) that the farm boss hired directly, which he had not gone home for 4 years. We met irresponsible contractors that do not care for the workers. They will only contact the workers when there is job and they are earning more than a$3 per hour per worker by sitting at home.
Why? Why is this world so unfair? The Malaysian we met are like us. Spoke mandarin and have the same culture like us but have to leave their loved ones at home to come to this shitty place.
There were also a few Indonesian, Thai, Philippines and a Cambodian but none Singaporean.
There were also some from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea, mostly backpackers that come here with a working holiday visa. they worked just to look around, earn enough money and leave. I had seen a few and they are not really very responsible workers.
Work made anyone or everyone tired. During work, one has to fully concentrate on what they are doing till knocked off. When they go back home, their mind is tired and all they want to do is to have a good shower, eat and sleep. There wouldn’t be extra time to facebook or like me, writing a blog. What wakes them up in the morning was not the alarm clock but the ache on their back, knees, legs and arms. The whole body felt strained, stressed and cramped. The cold weather (coming winter here) made them even harder to wake up.
Work and go home and rest and work? What is that for? For the money? Is that a rat race or what? Why must we work and get tired? For the money? The money is to feed children, buy something that you like or save up for travel? Why must every human work? I don’t understand. We have to survive by working and stress up our mind? I don’t understand. Because we have commitment? Because we have installment to pay?
We met a man in his mid 30’s by the name of Yao. We watched him work and I told myself that it would be my fortune to have him to work for my company. He left Malaysia and came to Australia and worked in farm for better $. He’s married with 2 boys aged 7 and 4 at home (Malaysia) with his wife. He had his visa overdue for 1-2 years and yet still working in the farm here. I went to visit his living condition. Yao is staying at an open shed house with a parked caravan, which is his home. The surrounding were soil, mud and machineries. It looked like a scrap yard. During lunch time, I viewed at his lunch box, which consists of rice and pumpkin, where the pumpkin was taken free from the farm he was staying. He worked here because of love. He sent his child to the best school in his home town. He spends his money thriftily. His daily (so called) entertainment was to roll his own tobacco for smoke, and have his mobile phone to connect with his family in Malaysia and friends in Australia. I would wish him the best in his life and hopefully the 2 boys he had would appreciate Yao’s sacrifice for bringing them up and giving them all the best.
The place where Yao was staying.
Yao having a coffeebreak.
Mr. Caruso treated his workers well. In the early 1967, when he was about 4 years old, he came to Australia with his parents by sailing for 30 days from Italy. When he went to school, the Aussies here didn’t like him and his friends, which had something in common. They were all migrants. So at that time, young Caruso formed a gang to protect themselves from the Aussies, which always bullied them. The gang consist of Swedish, Italian, Germans, Croatians and a few other European countries migrant. They always used fist to fight.
On my 31st birthday, Mr Caruso gave me a big present. Not a tractor but gave me a chance to learn to drive a tractor. In the picture i was giving him a lift to another place in the farm. How many Singaporeans actually have a chance to drive a farm tractor?
I asked him how he ended up having his farm business. He explained that his parents had farm working experience when they were in Italy. So they tried doing this in Australia and he made it. He explained further that after the war in Europe, there wasn’t much jobs in Italy so they have to leave the country to look for opportunity.
If you can see, the situation of the workers that are working in the farms here are quite similar to Mr. Caruso when he came from Italy to Australia. That’s why he treated all his foreign workers very well and with lots of respect, giving every worker chance to survive, because he had gone through the same shit when he was young.
What about the Singaporean’s attitude towards foreign workers?