Ausveg highlights Pacific Islander work scheme
Australian industry body AusVeg has called on farmers to make the most of the Federal Government's Pacific Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme, drawing labor from countries like Kiribati, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.
AusVeg CEO Richard Mulcahy said the scheme could be a good way to meet current labor force challenges, especially as backpacker worker numbers are on the decline.
"Many Australian farms face problems finding a reliable workforce in busy periods of the year," he said.
"Vegetable and fruit growers previously relied on backpacker labour, which is becoming increasingly scarce with the current uncertain global financial situation leading to less people spending on travel.
"The pilot scheme benefits growers as the workforce remain at their farm for periods of four to six months, which cuts down on the amount of re-training that they need to do during their busiest periods of the year."
Mulcahy said an added benefit was that workers often return year after year, which leads to skills retention and efficiency improvement.
"The scheme also assists keen workers from Pacific Islands, where opportunities for work can be scarce, as these growers are paid to Australian standards, with money earned often used to support their families back home.
"A scheme like this is beneficial for all parties involved, as growers benefit through access to reliable and skilled workers, Australian industries are supported through improvements in efficiency and the workers benefit through employment that they may not otherwise have access to."
The scheme was first announced in 2008 when former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced 2,500 visas would be given to unskilled workers from Pacific islands, magazine Islands Business International reported.
In early 2010, the magazine published a story pointing out only 56 workers had arrived in Australia under the scheme by that date, tagging the number as a 'sorry tally'.
Since then the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has made changes to the scheme to provide more flexibility, sharing arrangements, and different payment requirements for workers' airfares.
Under the previous scheme farmers needed to pay 50% of international airfare costs for any Pacific Island worker, but the percentages have changed to 35% for Kiribati workers, 50% for Tongans, 55% for Papua New Guineans and 80% for Vanuatuans.