Dreams of working at sea on a fishing trawler have turned to a nightmare for a French national.
Dreams of working at sea on a fishing trawler have turned to a nightmare for a French national. Brett Wortman

Man's horror: From Bundy farm to trapped at sea for 20 days

DREAMS of working on a fishing trawler as an alternative to farm work soon turned to a nightmare at sea for a French national.

Jeremy, 28, had been working as a backpacker on Bundaberg farms when, after hearing positive accounts from fellow farm workers, he decided to take to the ocean.

Backpackers must complete approximately three months of rural or regional work to qualify for a second-year visa and fishing work can qualify towards that.

Through word of mouth, Jeremy got a phone call from a trawler captain.

"He said 'I'm going fishing for for 20 nights from Burnett Heads and I'm looking for someone to join my crew," Jeremy said.

"He asked about my bank details and my tax file number.

"He said 'You just come, sign the contract on the boat'."

The captain told Jeremy he would be paid on a percentage of fish caught.

Jeremy said the man collected him and within a day they were off at sea on the 15-metre trawler with a three-man crew - but it didn't take long for him to realise something wasn't right.

"When I asked him about how much I'd get paid he'd say 'no not today, no contract today'," he said.

"After one week, I knew.

"He was also throwing his rubbish in the sea. One day the cable broke and he just threw 30m of steel cable into the sea."

What followed was days of hard work, with Jeremy feeling he had little choice but to continue.

"You can't get off and you can't call for help because you have no service at all," he said.

"I was working all day, all night. At 6pm we'd start to get the boat ready, at 9-11pm we'd pull the nets for the first time, then again at 2-3am and 6-7am.

"After that we had to clean the boat and make some breakfast, we usually finished at 10-11am and slept all day and started again and that was our day."

Jeremy says in total he worked between 220 and 250 hours, which he now believes should have been paid at $23.50 an hour.

The Reunion Island man said after contacting Fair Work, he was informed that, as a backpacker, it was illegal to be offered a percentage of the catch value as payment.

"It was the worst experience I had in my life," he said.

"It was basically a slave job."

When the trawler pulled back into Bundaberg with its catch of exotic fish and prawns, Jeremy's worst fears were confirmed.

"As soon as we got back to the port he kicked me off the boat and didn't pay me. He said I wasn't fit to be a fisherman," he said.

Jeremy doesn't know if he will ever be compensated for his hours of labour and, because he has no contract or payslips, he will have to work an extra 20 days towards his second-year visa.

"He broke a lot of dreams I had," Jeremy said.

"I wanted to buy a car and go up to Cairns but now I have to wait so I hope I can go up to Cairns and do my farm work and have enough money to come back.

"I thought I'd try and trust people and that was my mistake."

Jeremy said he also had to spend money to find accommodation after he came back to shore and had to replace belongings that had been weathered on the trawler.

"To all backpackers, be careful," he said.

"I hope it won't happen to another person.

"I'm lucky with the farmers but I was really unlucky with the fishermen."