National Farmers' Federation

Pacific Island labour solution to roll-out nationally

PHASE Two of the pilot scheme recruiting up to 2,400 employees from Pacific Island nations to fill chronic labour shortages on Australian horticultural farms is gearing up for the sector’s peak harvest season, which kicks-off from September. Phase One of the scheme, granting temporary visas under a Federal Government-regulated program, saw 56 seasonal workers from Tonga and Vanuatu hit-the-ground earlier this year. They worked their way through the specified pilot regions of Swan Hill and Robinvale (Victoria), Griffith (NSW) and Mundubbera (Queensland). Resoundingly successful, Phase Two is being expanded to include all horticultural regions across Australia. As architects of the scheme, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) co-launched it with the Federal Government in August 2008 having spent three years putting the scheme together. “It’s a targeted response to a very specific need,” NFF President David Crombie said. “We applaud the Federal Government for having the vision to adopt our Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme proposal. “Horticultural growers have been watching their produce rot season after season. On average, it costs growers $100,000 per crop per year in lost production – in some cases as high as $250,000. That’s a crippling blow to them, the $7 billion-a-year horticulture sector, Australia’s domestic food supply and our export markets (worth $1 billion-a-year). “While we’re always encouraging Australians to take up the 22,000 jobs on offer, they’ve gone unfilled for far too long. So this is one way of arresting the jobs crisis. In the Pacific Islands we have a ready, willing and able workforce happy to make the trek into regional Australia to fill these positions. And Australian farmers are welcoming them with open arms. “This scheme is founded on the principal of mutual benefits for farmers and employees. It provides the workforce we desperately need and, in turn, we provide new skills and training to employees coming to Australia temporarily – skills they can apply at home. “In fact, farmers eligible for the scheme must be demonstrably committed to best practice in delivering skills and excellence, working conditions and human resource management. Also, with farm losses of such magnitude, farmers are happy to pay the travel expenses of their Pacific Island employees. “The remuneration each seasonal employee receives is at Australian market rates, far exceeding what they can earn at home – representing a boost for them, their families and their local economies. The experience they gain from working alongside the world’s best fruit and vegetable producers is a vital building block for economic and social development in Pacific Island countries. “The NFF’s extensive analysis to quantify labour shortages, proactively drive a practical solution and build-in protections for employees has seen the scheme universally recognised by Australians, Pacific Island nations, aid agencies, the World Bank and others as a ‘win-win’ all round.” Expressions of Interest from labour hire companies and horticultural producers for Phase Two are open now and close on 6 August 2009. For more information visit: http://www.workplace.gov.au/workplace/Individual/Migrant/PacificSeasonalWorkerPilotScheme.htm[The Australian Government’s ‘Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme’ website] The NFF’s five research and policy documents underpinning the scheme are available at: http://www.nff.org.au/policy/workplace.html[Workplace Relations] [ENDS]

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