Minister talks of kiaps’ extraordinary role
‘The only PNGn in a crowd of 200’

Pacific labour scheme to start by Xmas

Despite forecasts that Australia is headed towards recession and higher unemployment, workers from the South Pacific will be brought in to pick fruit in the Riverina because horticulturalists say they cannot get enough local labour. The unskilled workers will come from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and, later, Papua New Guinea and will be allowed to stay for seven months under a Federal Government trial seasonal worker scheme.

Farmers will pay half the cost of airfares and the workers will be paid award wages. After an initial trial with 100 workers, which will begin before Christmas, 2,400 seasonal worker visas will be available for Pacific Islanders from July 2009.

The National Farmers' Federation says there is a nationwide shortage of 22,000 seasonal workers in horticulture alone and bringing in the Pacific Islanders is important to enable farmers to continue producing food. Federation president David Crombie said the Pacific Islands had a ready, willing and able workforce, happy to make the trek into regional Australia to fill the positions. "Australian farmers are ready to welcome them with open arms," he said. "They are loath to see another season of fruit rotting on trees."

Australian Workers Union assistant national secretary Ben Swan said there was a recognised shortage of labour in the horticultural industry. "We are 100 percent behind the Islander scheme," Mr Swan said. He said the workers would get the same pay, terms and conditions as Australians with rates beginning at $14.30 an hour for full-timers.

Mr Crombie said he encouraged Australians to take up any of the 22,000 vacancies. "This scheme is not a replacement for local jobs; it supplements local labour shortfalls."

Farms at Griffith and Leeton are urgently in need of pickers for valencia oranges and other produce such as melons, pumpkins and onions.

Source: ‘Rich pickings as Pacific Islander trial bears fruit’, Denis Gregory, Sun-Herald, 14 December 2008


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