SEASONAL workers from across the Pacific are supporting agriculture in the Far North, with growers embracing the work ethic and reliability of the foreign workers.
International delegates from the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Fiji and Papua New Guinea traveled to the Far North this month to meet growers in Mareeba and Bowen who were interested in the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP).
The international delegates represented four of the 10 participating countries in the Federal Government-funded SWP.
In 2016/17, Australian employers hired 477 workers from Timor-Leste, 190 from Fiji, 139 from Papua New Guinea and just 87 from Solomon Islands compared with 2690 from Tonga and 2150 from Vanuatu.
Growers were informed of opportunities to diversify recruitment sources across the SWP countries, reducing the impact on the main sending countries.
The delegation toured several farms in the region including Piñata Farms at Paddy’s Green near Mareeba, where Vanuatu men are employed.
Pinata Farms director Stephen Scurr said they were on their third intake of Vanuatu men for the farm and had doubled their intake this year.
“All we’re looking for is people who genuinely want to work, and if they show that, it’s a great start,” Mr Scurr said.
“A big incentive for us is if they come over here and work well, they can come back every year because we want that consistency.”
On a tour of Vee Jay’s Kalfresh in Bowen, the delegation got to spruik the SWP to vegetable growers Jamie and Melita Jurgens, who expressed interest in the program.
“If we can get workers who’ll come back the next year and know what they’re doing, that is of huge benefit to us because there are a lot of costs for us in training,” Mr Jurgens said.
Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network Far North Queensland Manager Leanne Kruss said there was positive interest in the SWP.
“We don’t just see seasonal workers as low-skilled workers – they’re an important part of workforce solutions here,” she said.
“The contribution these countries can make to supporting agriculture in Far North Queensland is significant, and we welcome them.”
Solomon Islands Director of Trade George Tuti told growers his country was in a solid position to help.
“By Pacific standards, we’ve got a large population so we are more than happy to supply a good number of workers where there are shortages in the agriculture sector,” he said.
“We’ve got more than 600,000 people, 80 per cent living in rural areas. Subsistence farming is just a way of life so our workers have useful experience for working on Queensland farms.”
Growers interested in the program can visit https://www.jobs.gov.au/participating-countries-and-contact-points for more information.