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Pacific Island seasonal workers to get a great deal

12 August 2008

ELEVENTH-HOUR scaremongering over Pacific Islanders working on Australian fruit and vegetable farms evoked the ire of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) today, frustrated that out-dated attitudes and misinformation have been seized upon in a bid scuttle such a vital part of filling 22,000 job vacancies in horticulture.

“Since 2005 we’ve been completely transparent about the need to bring workers in from Pacific Island nations and the absolute imperative of ensuring that the terms and conditions of employment be fundamentally premised on mutual benefit,” NFF President David Crombie said.

“The Coalition knows full well that over two years of discussion, debate and consultation on Pacific Island seasonal workers has already been undertaken.

“Our Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme, encapsulating that research and discussion, was launched in April of this year. Both the Rudd Government and the broader community understand the vital needs to be met – and the opportunities for seasonal employees – under the program.

“In short, the Government, the Australian Workers Union and the community have all moved on… it’s a shame some in the Coalition have not.

“The program is designed to fill the chronic need for employees in the horticultural sector. But it is founded on providing new skills and training to those employees coming to Australia temporarily – skills they take home. Further, the remuneration they receive, at Australian market rates, far exceeds what they can earn at home – a boost for them, their families and their local economies.

“These principles have been supported by the World Bank, recognising the ongoing development opportunities for the people and nations that participate. It is also no small consideration that Pacific Island nations are crying out for this scheme... and sooner rather than later.

“Of course, we must encourage more Australians into agricultural careers. But we also have to recognise a couple of home truths. Firstly, Australians are simply not taking up these labour-intensive positions. Secondly, that even if Australia’s record low unemployment fell to zero, we do not have the domestic manpower to meet the demand for labour.

“Our proposal taps into the willingness of farmers to provide a career path through training for employees. In fact, farmers eligible for the scheme must be demonstrably committed to best practice in delivering skills and excellence, working conditions and human resource management.

“Horticulture, with a gross production value of over $7 billion a year, including $1 billion in exports, must not be allowed to wither and rot when a positive, mutually beneficial and viable solution is literally on our doorstep.

“We are impressed that the Rudd Government has the vision to seriously examine implementing this program. It’s time the Coalition got on board.”

[ENDS]

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

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