Skip navigation
We Are Union VTHC
We Are Union Journal
News from the working class
Featured:
Clive Palmer, hero of the average Joe

Finding the Humour in Farm Work

“Can you imagine? Fifty workers, one bathroom. Fifty buttholes, one bathroom. Can you imagine? So gross.”

We lost count of how many times Takashi Wakasugi used the phrases “Can you imagine?” and “So gross” through his stand-up show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. It is very telling that these phrases form the foundation, the rhythm, of his show. It’s a show about his time doing farm labour as part of his visa requirements to stay in Australia on a working holiday and he’s asking us, the audience, “can you imagine?” Many of us can’t. 

Stand-up comedian Takashi Wakasugi

Stand-up comedian Takashi Wakasugi

The conditions of farm workers made more headlines than ever in 2020. Many farm owners found themselves without workers in the absence of backpackers and migrants, and the industry found itself in a state of emergency. It was, of course, an emergency of their own making. Agriculture bosses quickly took to calling Australian jobseekers lazy and entitled for not coming to pick fruits and vegetables on farms, but the reality is that local workers have been locked out of farm work for a long time. Farm bosses choose, instead, to exploit the gaping cracks in Australia's working holiday visa system, subjecting holiday-makers to wage theft and shocking living conditions. 

Takashi-san came from Japan, where he had a full-time, well-paying job in Tokyo. Wanting a change and to see more of the world, he came to Australia on a working holiday visa: what is known as a subclass 417. The conditions are that you can come to Australia on a working holiday for a year, but you can do an extra year if you do “three months” of approved farm work. But that "three months" isn’t actually three months. Takashi lived on farms and worked as hard as anyone for four months actually, but his working days only totalled 57 due to weekends, no picking to be done, or a variety of other reasons. He needed 88. No one had told him this. His visa was not extended, as a result. Can you imagine? So gross.

Farm bosses choose, instead, to exploit the gaping cracks in Australia's working holiday visa system, subjecting holiday-makers to wage theft and shocking living conditions

Takashi was treated this way by a country that he had fallen in love with A country he laboured to keep fed. He faced racism and abuse from his employer, long hours, forty-degree days and sore muscles every night. He never mentions how much he was paid, but we know from the unions that cover farm workers that the rates are shockingly low and the amount the workers get to keep (supposedly minus the cost of accommodation) are even lower. The farm bosses, with little regard for workers' privacy or comfort, require workers to live on site, cramped in overcrowded dormitories. Can you imagine? 

The government and employer groups scratch their heads, wondering how they can attract people to farms. They talk about university credits and national service for young people, but they don’t talk about fair wages and decent working conditions. 

666or376.5fbf61c5e6202.jpeg

Beyond the dark comedy that is life on the farm, the other thing we can take away from Takashi’s show is the power of art and humour. The best thing you can do when you’re being exploited and mistreated at work is to join your union, but there’s something to be said for taking the anguish and the frustrating irony of the workplace and turning it outwards. 

Workplaces have, and continue to be, the source of so many great comedies. The Office, Parks and Recreation, Utopia, The Thick of It, just to name a few. The universality of work as a source of absurdity is what makes these works so popular. And while we might not be able to imagine the specifics of farm work on a 417 visa, we all know what it’s like to do a hard day’s work and then have your boss fart on your head. Right? So gross. 

So next time you have a bad day at work, and after you’ve spoken to your union delegate, think about Takashi Wakasugi. Use that frustration. Try stand-up comedy. Write a screenplay. Learn how to play the ukulele. More people than you realise will relate to your experiences. A room full of people laughing at a joke about a shit boss is really just a way to build class consciousness. Can you imagine? 

Takashi Wakasugi's show is running until Sunday the 18th, and you can purchase tickets here.

Subscribe