National Farmers' Federation

Swan Hill & Griffith first to trial Pacific Island solution

TODAY the Australian Government announced the first regions to trial the Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme – enabling around 100 seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands to start in Swan Hill (Victoria) and Griffith (NSW) within a matter of weeks.
“With horticultural regions across Australia loathe to see another season of fruit rotting on tress, many were vying for the Government’s preliminary trial,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said.
“We congratulate the Swan Hill and Griffith communities on their success, with employees set to hit the ground for the second half of the current harvest season.
“All horticultural farmers across Australia need to support Swan Hill and Griffith’s efforts, as their success will determine the eventual roll-out of the pilot scheme over the next three years before, ultimately, covering all horticultural areas with labour needs.
“Swan Hill and Griffith are just ‘first-cabs-off-the-rank’, satisfying all of the Government’s essential criteria, including high production needs, scarce local employment prospects, and the readiness and capacity to facilitate the immediate needs of the Pacific Islanders – through existing and available accommodation, training options, pastoral care and community services.
“With a nationwide shortage of 22,000 seasonal workers in horticulture alone, this scheme is a critical component in enabling farmers to continue producing food.
“There are costs for farmers under the scheme we put to the Government, which is founded on the principals of mutual responsibility. Naturally, it provides the workforce we desperately need, but, in turn, farmers provide new skills and training to employees coming to Australia – skills they then apply back home.
“Further, the pay each seasonal employee receives – at Australian market rates – far exceeds what they could earn at home… representing a boost for them, their families and their local economies.
“The scheme should encourage growers to exceed existing workplace standards. As the New Zealand example demonstrates, farmers are likely to build upon these benefits to provide over-and-above the basics.
“To this end, farmers’ ongoing contribution to the development and implementation of the scheme will be vital to ensuring it continues to meet the practical needs of both employers and employees on the ground.
“Modern farming in Australia relies on cutting-edge approaches to key areas such as international trade, education and training, climate and drought management… effective workplace relations and conditions are no less integral parts of on-farm best practice.
“Bonuses, training opportunities, getting employees involved in the business, sharing experiences and extending the hand of friendship of the community are fundamental to ensuring all seasonal employees – whether from across the Pacific or just across road – are happy, productive and willing to return in future years.
“While these features do cost farm businesses, the costs are insignificant when weighed against overcoming production and staff turnover losses, which often exceed $100,000 per season per farm.
“There are also broader benefits for regional communities, with existing infrastructure and services expanding to meet the schemes’ growth, creating more local jobs in hospitality, trades, education, retail and a host of other sectors… all the while ensuring a reliable season-long workforce, which improves efficiency and gives local communities greater certainty.
“As always, we encourage Australians to take up any of the 22,000 job vacancies. There are plenty to go around. This scheme is not a replacement for local jobs, it supplements local labour shortfalls, which must be serious for the scheme to kick in.
“At present, in the Pacific Islands, we have a ready, willing and able workforce happy to make the trek into regional Australia to fill these positions. Australian farmers are ready to welcome them with open arms.”
Following this preliminary trial, the remaining 2,400 Pacific Island seasonal worker visas will be available from July 2009. The NFF continues to work with the horticultural sector and the Government on the detail of this important scheme.

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