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Farmers await ‘go ahead’ for Pacific Island pilot scheme

5 June 2008

A NATIONAL Farmers’ Federation (NFF) detailed proposal for an Australian Government-backed ‘pilot programme’ under a new Seasonal Worker Visa to allow Pacific Islanders to fill entry-level positions in Australia’s horticultural sector – where 22,000 employees are needed – is under active consideration by the Government.

“We are now awaiting Federal Cabinet consideration of the plan,” NFF President David Crombie said. “Since launching our Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme proposal (in April 2008), we have put a detailed implementation plan to the Government to ensure Australians are not displaced from jobs and safeguards are in place for overseas workers.

“We have also undertaken, and provided to Government, an industry perspective following the NFF’s recent study tour of New Zealand, gaining valuable insights and lessons from their Pacific Island worker policy.

“The NFF’s strict criteria recommend a number of regions for pilot programmes (see dot points below), where the need for seasonal labour is greatest and, just as importantly, where the capability exists to deliver the necessary services and infrastructure to accommodate foreign-sourced employees, including employers who meet high standards of human resource management.

  • Victoria – Swan Hill, Mildura and Robin Vale.
  • NSW – Griffith.
  • Queensland – to be determined.

“We expressly state that the new scheme should not be, in any way, available to anyone who contravenes Australian workplace relations or immigration laws.”

In developing the new material for the Government’s consideration, the NFF collated specific regional data from across Australia, providing extensive insight from horticultural producers. Feedback received by the NFF in response to the research includes:

“We have to do this right, the first time, to ensure that the scheme emerges from a trial to deliver ongoing outcomes for all stakeholders. Citrus fruit is a major commodity in the Griffith region (NSW), and the community is ready to work together if presented with the chance to be involved in this scheme,” Peter Morrish, CEO of Riverina Citrus, said.

“Horticulture is a labour-intensive sector, so it’s essential to our ability to compete on global markets that we have a reliable and capable workforce”, Sue Brigenti, a citrus grower in Griffith added. “It’s just as important that growers do this right, if we’re given the chance. After all, many of the workers would, hopefully, return the next season and so on, bringing with them the experience they have already gained. We have a responsibility to build-up and nurture those skills in participants.”

“We would wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to be involved in a trial.” Gaye Tripodi, a horticultural producer in Swan Hill (Victoria) said. “We’ve been struggling for years to get the people we need and it’s only getting worse. Now is certainly the right time for this scheme, and I know the concept has been widely supported by the local communities in Swan Hill and Robin Vale.”

“Further, the NFF’s proposal has attracted considerable support from the Pacific Island nations who stand to benefit from the scheme,” Mr Crombie said. “It’s frustrating for all – our farmers, the prospective Pacific Island employees and their governments – that so many people are shut-out from the benefits of Australian wages and on-the-job training when there is so much work available.

“The NFF’s framework addresses all the recommendations in the report on the New Zealand scheme, recently released by the Institute of Social Research at Swinburne University (Victoria).

“It demonstrates our commitment to advance a practical plan that can deliver the much-needed workforce for growers, giving long-term viability to a key sector in producing food – both here and overseas, while providing participating workers with new skills, experience and remuneration beyond what they could earn at home.

“This scheme is ideal and essential in tackling the chronic seasonal labour shortage across horticulture. Implementing a pilot is a necessary first instalment to what can be a long-term solution for all participants.”

The NFF's Industry Perspective: New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer Policy and Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme proposal are available from the Workplace Relations page of this website.

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Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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