Pacific islanders heading to Katherine to help with mango harvest

Pacific islanders heading to Katherine to help with mango harvest

Horticulture
Packing mangoes in Katherine, traditionally it has been a job helped by backpackers and other international arrivals.

Packing mangoes in Katherine, traditionally it has been a job helped by backpackers and other international arrivals.

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Up to 170 workers will be brought over from Vanuatu to help with the NT's mango harvest.

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Up to 170 workers will be brought over from Vanuatu to help with the NT's mango harvest.

Many of the workers are expected to head to Katherine where the bulk of the Territory's mangoes are grown.

The Pacific islanders are part of a trial scheme organised by the NT and Federal Governments.

The NT Farmer's Association has forecast a shortage of 800 to 1000 workers from this month.

There are currently no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Vanuata but the program is a direct result of the pandemic with loss of the traditional picking workforce causing dire shortages.

There have been fears much of the harvest, which gets into full swing next month, will be left to rot on the trees because of the loss of pickers.

The pilot will be open to Vanuatu citizens initially, with other nations potentially joining the program later.

The governments agreed to the trial to address the labour shortages affecting NT farmers.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted agriculture with restrictions impeding international and domestic travel for would-be workers.

"The Northern Territory's mango producers in particular are facing a rough road ahead without the workers they rely on for their harvest," Minister Littleproud said.

"That's going to come to a head when the mango harvest starts in earnest in September.

"This trial will see up to 170 workers under the Seasonal Worker Programme come to Australia to help with the 2020 harvest, with more workers to potentially follow subject to a review of the first cohort and approval for additional numbers by the NT Government.

"No one wants to see fruit and vegetables wasted and this trial will help make sure that doesn't happen."

The governments insist there will be stringent conditions enforced to ensure the safety of Australians and Northern Territorians - including the 14-day self-isolation requirements.

"Growers will also need to meet conditions to participate including stringent labour market testing already required under the Seasonal Worker Program," Mr Littleproud said.

Workers will be recruited from Vanuatu (reflecting Vanuatu's strong representation in past cohorts working during the Northern Territory mango season).

The Samoan Government has also been approached and is considering the proposal.

This pickers helped with the 2018 harvest from Italy and Taiwan.

This pickers helped with the 2018 harvest from Italy and Taiwan.

The workers will fly into Darwin and undergo a mandatory, supervised 14-day quarantine at the Howard Springs quarantine facility and required a negative COVID-19 test result before leaving.

"The Territory's growers, more than any others, rely on seasonal workers and working holidaymakers- COVID-19 has virtually stopped that labour supply.

"To those working holiday makers who chose to stay in Australia, thank you for being here - and Australians looking for work, please consider heading north to take advantage of the work there," Minister Littleproud said.

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said with appropriate quarantine arrangements in place, seasonal and Pacific workers can continue to safely support Australian farmers facing critical workforce shortages.

"Of course, farmers can only employ people under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme if they can demonstrate that no Australian is available to do the work."

The NT grows half the mangoes in Australia, and most of those in the Katherine region.

The NT grows half the mangoes in Australia, and most of those in the Katherine region.

The trial builds on the visa changes the Government has already made to keep temporary workers in Australia longer to support critical sectors like agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senator Sam McMahon said the trial was a critical first step towards helping mango growers with their upcoming harvest season.

This industry produced almost half of our national production of mangoes in 2018-19 - 32,900 tonnes worth nearly $109 million.

Northern Territory horticulture industry production in 2018-19 was valued at $251.2 million, with indirect impact on the rest of the NT economy estimated at $128.1 million.

The Territory horticulture industry directly employs an approximately 4300 people with another 2100 people employed indirectly.

The story Pacific islanders heading to Katherine to help with mango harvest first appeared on Katherine Times.

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