Don’t work for Costa Berries Gingin!
With a title like that, are you not scared about the large business, Costa Berries? What are they going to do, steal money from me? Oh too late!
This blog is about their mistreatment of staff and how I think the 88 days should be scrapped. But I must state these are my experiences and might not be the same for you ( I only say this for legal reasons)
Before we started
Let me give you a rundown on our situation prior to working at Costa Berries Gingin.
We had been working at a strawberry field in Albany hating most of our time slaving in the hot weather, no available water on fields and backbreaking work… but this blog isn’t about them…It’s about Costa (the worse out of the two!).
Completing our 88 days at the Albany strawberry farm and not having much money to our name we moved on right away!
The 1st red flag should have been their interview method.
They said the next interviews were taking place the next day, giving us 2 hours to pack our bags and head 6 hours north (Driving in the dark, which is a big no for Australia with the kangaroo’s). Of course, I could have said no, but everyone knows you can’t turn down an opportunity in a farm as they will just replace you. For a disclaimer purpose of this blog … Costa could have been different.
The interview started at 12:00 on Tuesday 27th March 2018 at Costa Berries Gingin. Full of hope we headed to the interview in the middle of nowhere, 20 minutes drive away from any shops and houses and to be fair civilization.
On arrival, we headed to the Induction room, which was a 5 minutes drive from the nearest road. Just to find out this was not ready for the interview so we were directed 5 minutes drive away (thinking luckily this was a one-off… it wasn’t).
During the interview
The interview was a group interview. They explained how its piece rate with a minimum rate of $1 a punnet and they pay $23.62 on average (If you read my blog on what it is 88 farm work like, you might know where this is going), how buckets of fruit can’t touch the floor, piercings are not allowed as they may fall out in the fruit and they are not washed or checked with metal detectors, how the fruit rows have to be picked clean. This means picking off the bad fruit (which you don’t get paid for) and not missing good fruit.
We got told there were lots of hours currently starting at 6:30 AM – 3 PM but later the hours would be 6:30 AM -5 PM. Lots of hours to come! (This was the 1st time we heard this automated sentence).
We got told we have to buy a belt and clips for the buckets as these are supplied and can not work without them. They asked when we were all available to work and we said asap. It wasn’t like we were going to give up on a job we drove 6 hours to get due to fact we weren’t available, and they said they needed staff as soon as possible.
We got told we would find out if we had the job within the day. The 1st thing they kept to… maybe the only thing!
Preparing for Work
As soon as we finished our interview, we headed to Joondalup which was a 40-minute drive away to get the items mentioned above, plus find somewhere for Taylor to take out her piercings. We had to do this before even getting offered a job due to the fact we may have to start the next day.
The worst thing wasn’t buying a belt or hooks. It was the fact Taylor had to take all her piercings out… which was a challenge due to the fact they were fixed in (so wouldn’t fall out, we did tell Costa this but they didn’t care). When they phoned to tell her she had the job I explained this and they said don’t come in till they’re out. So I told them I’ll take them out with pliers and they said ‘Good Idea’. We found a shop in the end; Taylor wasn’t happy.
1st day at work
It was more like a training day. Going over the points explained in the interview and showing you the correct way of doing things. Reporting bee stings, how to work safely and they really seemed care about our safety when it came to work. They told us the minimal picking rate and that you must sign an agreement on the price before working. This price could only go up during the day. This day was paid hourly pay.
When arriving on the field for our 1st pick the picking rate was 90 cents- strange. We finished picking by 11 am. Paid $70.86 for 3 hours (we there much longer than 3 hours… but who am I to argue).
The next couple of days
When we turned up on at 6:30 we had to prepare our trolleys for packing and making boxes up, setting up scales and other bits. We had to sign on too… most of the time we were told to sign on before the rate was even put on the sheet.
We started work at 6:30 am and was finished around 12 every day.
Let me do the maths for you 4.5 hours everyday minimum wage was 18.29 x 25% For casual loading which is a requirement = $22.89
$103 minimal a day
$106 average for them!
$91.28 is what we earned on average
This before tax:
2nd Day Punnet rate: 1.10 Pay: $74.80
3rd Day Punnet rate: 1.4 Pay: $105
4th Day Punnet rate: 1.2 Pay: $51.60 (This day there was more bad fruit than good fruit)
5th Day Punnet rate: 1 Pay: $111
6th Day Punnet rate: 1 Pay:$114
We were promised there we be longer hours, every day … ‘It will be 2 weeks’.
I was also told I was the backup runner! Which was an hourly paid position, ‘checking and making sure everyone does their job properly.’
I was paid more than Taylor. Before anyone says you were probably slow… we were the quicker ones that week!
So why were we paid under the minimum wage? I found out why a week later!
The next couple of weeks
The fruit came through, but the hours got shorter!
How? They hired more staff… This continued… more fruit was coming… more staff arrived.
Within a week our hours dropped and we started later (7 am) and more days off. This wasn’t just for us it was for everyone!
On top of this, the piece rate dropped below the $1 which was promised in our interview. On one occasion, Taylor was doing the paperwork and everyone signed the picking sheet for the day at a rate of $1.10. Once it was signed and everyone went off to work, they put tipex in the rate box and wrote in 65 cents instead! Everyone who came back after packing their fruit noticed this, however, and complained so much that they put the price up to 90 cents.
I found out why the hourly rate was so low compared to the minimum wage.
Due to the fact they worked out the rate only on the time, we were all picking. Setting up the tables, driving to and from next picking patches, washing our buckets, packing the last batch of fruit and tidying up at the end of the day was not counted as working hours. So every day around 1 hour was unpaid. So on the days later on where we worked the hours 7 am -10 am we got paid for 2 of these.
How do I know this
On the 1st day (and only time ) I was running I found this out. I got paid hourly for 6.25 hours and earned $147.63 dollars where the highest paid picker which was there for the same amount of time… didn’t even make $120. (They place the pick rate and highest pickers up on the scoreboard the next day. He apparently made $40 an hour… so they marked everyone down as doing 3 hours that day … crazy!)
The other thing I got told was not to worry about checking the fastest pickers rows, because they improve the picking rate. Make sure I keep an eye ‘x and x’ (names were taken out) they’re packing really bad and picking really bad. Turns out the day before they brought up the pay with the supervisor. This put them under pressure and impossible to pick fast… And they would be in the bottom and end up leaving or being asked to leave due to being too slow.
Another one of my jobs was to make sure everyone was picking and packing with guidelines for fruit packing. They told me not to worry about it when I saw people picking up fruit off the floor, dropping boxes or mixing up areas of fruit.
The weeks before leaving
The weeks before leaving the hours became so small and the money so low everyone was rushing rows to get as many rows done and as much fruit as possible. This ended up making the rows full of bad fruit and with days off ‘to spray the fruit’. The rows started to contain more bad fruit than good… and I and Taylor started to get picked on due to that fact. I asked why they hired new runners and why I was promised back up runner. These runners allowed bad picking, more good fruit and more bad fruit left on plants. We never got paid for picking the bad fruit, and the only people that picked it were the ones picked on by the runners to do so, in turn making them even slower as they cleared the build-up of bad fruit left by the fast pickers.
The day we left, they wanted me and Taylor to be in the bottom so much they miscounted my fruit … in other words they stole $20 off me. This might be because I told the supervisors boss what was going on. Nothing changed after telling him though.
We quit that day. But they layed off the slowest pickers (the guys picking clean) for the next couple of days… I didn’t stay in the Facebook group to find out if they were ever put back to work.
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