Pacific workers meet seasonal labour need

Pacific Island workers meet seasonal labour needs in Lockyer Valley and Bundaberg

Horticulture
Solomon  Islands  workers  harvesting  mangoes  at  Nutrano  in  Katherine.  Photo -  Cardno

Solomon Islands workers harvesting mangoes at Nutrano in Katherine. Photo - Cardno

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Pacific Islands Seasonal Worker Program workers provide horticulture growers with a secure workforce that return season after season.

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Large crowds of growers attended information sessions held last week in the Lockyer Valley and Bundaberg to gain a better understanding of the Seasonal Worker Program and how it can help meet horticulture’s labour needs.

International delegates from Tuvalu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea (PNG) promoted the value of their workers and current approved employers gave first-hand testimonials on how the program is benefiting their businesses.

Representatives from the Labour Mobility Assistance Program (LMAP), the Department of Jobs and Small Business and the Office of Industrial Relations were also in attendance.

Growcom Workforce Development Manager and Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network (QAWN) officer Karen George said the information sessions focused on the smaller sending nations who were often overlooked for the more well-known Pacific Island nations such as Tonga and Vanuatu.

“In 2017/18, Australian employers hired 914 workers from Timor-Leste, 247 from Fiji, 175 from Solomon Islands, 92 from Papua New Guinea and none from Tuvalu in the horticulture sector, compared with 2790 from Tonga and 3348 from Vanuatu,” Ms George said.

“Often these smaller sending nations are overlooked but their workers are just as dedicated, hardworking and experienced.”

LMAP Partnerships Manager Tony Lotton said the delegates were here to build their profile, increase Australian employers’ interest in their respective countries and gain a better understanding of Queensland growers’ employment needs.

The rigorous recruitment process was also discussed at length.

“Participants undergo an extensive selection process based on a number of factors such as English communication skills and comprehension, work ethic, physical fitness, and ability to handle working in Australia’s harsh climatic conditions,” Mr Lotton said.

“Where possible, workers are selected based on whether they have subsistence farming experience in similar positions.”

During the recruitment process, employers can choose to travel to the specific country to meet applicants and assist in the selection process or candidate profiles can be supplied to the employers to make their selection.

Before arriving in Australia, applicants undergo a pre-departure process which includes assessing physical fitness, criminal records and health checks, as well as comprehensive pre-departure training.

Mr Lotton said Australia’s approved employers don’t just see SWP workers as low-skilled workers – they're an important part of Queensland’s horticulture industry supply chain.

“A large percentage of workers have backgrounds in subsistence agriculture, they understand farming, are used to working in harsh environments and are keen to prove they have the desired work ethics employers are looking for,” he said.

“Pacific Islands Seasonal Worker Program workers provide horticulture growers with a secure workforce that, unlike backpackers, return season-after-season. They are here to work, not to have a holiday.

“Having workers return season after season reduces the need to retrain and also reduces the cost of supervision.”

Organised by the Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network (QAWN) and supported by Growcom, the Seasonal Worker Program information sessions in the Lockyer Valley and Bundaberg were a continuation of the successful Queensland roadshow held in Mareeba, Bowen and Stanthorpe in March.

Last year alone, the total number of workers employed from the 10 Pacific Island nations involved in the Seasonal Worker Program increased from 6166 to 8457. This is an indication that interest from Australian employers in the Seasonal Worker Program is increasing.

Growers interested in the program can visit https://www.jobs.gov.au/participating-countries-and-contact-points 

The Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network (QAWN) is managed by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

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