Worker slams millionaire owner’s rules
THE multi-millionaire owner of a popular Sunshine Coast tourist attraction has been accused of exploiting backpackers in a "helping hands" homestay arrangement paying just $15 an hour.
According to a former guest, the man requires guests to work three hours per day of manual labour in exchange for accommodation at his Alexandra Headlands home.
A "conditions of stay" handout says that after three hours "the basic award is $15 an hour", $4.49 below the national minimum wage of $19.49.
German backpacker "Max", who asked not to use his real name, snapped a photo of the sheet during a brief stay last month, which ended with police being called after "he tried to physically throw me off the property while he still had my passport".
In exchange for house keys or a security chip, the handout sheet says guests must either hand over their passport, a $500 deposit or "other valuable items".
The 30-year-old had responded to an ad on Gumtree that said, "Backpacker helper wanted immediately for gardening, cleaning, landscaping, some renovation work, etc." The ad promised an "hourly rate" with "accommodation provided".
According to Max, the day he arrived he and another backpacker spent three hours doing removal work and three hours in the car. "We got paid nothing," he said, as the handout sheet specifies at "travel times are not work!"
The next day Max wanted to leave but was told "I have to clean the house". "The apartment was not clean when I moved in, the whole place was under construction so there was dirt everywhere," he said. "He wanted me to clean the fridge, which I didn't use."
Max added, "I told him if you don't give me my passport back now I'm going to call the police. I called the police and while I was on the phone he was screaming, 'He's lying, he's lying!', grabbing me on the arm and saying, 'Get out my property!' I couldn't because he still had my passport."
After 40 minutes police arrived, but Max said they were not sympathetic. "They told me they were both backpackers in the day and I shouldn't have such high expectations," he said. "I've travelled around the world, I know when something's messed up."
Queensland Police confirmed officers attended a call-out to the Alexandra Headlands address on August 9 but the matter was not taken further.
In a text message, the owner said the backpacker "was only with us for one day". "He was supposed to help our 79-year-old friend to move," he said.
"(He) worked for about three hours and behaved badly. I evicted him and the (sic) called police confirmed the eviction and left. (He) stayed only one night but left a lot of mess behind. All has been witnessed. Sorry, there is no further comment."
Max has since filed a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman, but the workplace cop declined to comment on individual matters. "We encourage any workers with concerns to contact us directly for assistance," a spokesman said in a statement.
The spokesman said employees seeking assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman should visit www.fairwork.gov.au or contact the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.
Max is now fruit picking in Bundaberg where he says conditions are equally dire, with farms paying $2 per bucket of zucchini and 50 cents per kilo of strawberries. "I would definitely say it's standard," he said.
"When I talk to people in hostels, most people have terrible experiences, they have to call their parents to lend them money. Young people, like 18-year-olds, they … think that's just how it goes."