19 August 2008

Invitations to guest-worker scheme under question

The Australian Government announced this week it will be introducing a pilot guest-worker scheme that will allow thousands of Pacific Islanders to work in the horticultural industry in regional Australia. However, some have questioned whether the scheme ignores crucial sources of labour such as the indigenous population and East Timorese, reports the Australian.

The horticultural industry in Australia has been suffering from a massive shortage in labour supply, meaning farmers are not reaching their market and economic potential and losing revenue.  To ease this shortage, the Government devised a pilot scheme which will grant temporary Australian work permits to 2,500 labourers from Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea to work in specified parts of Australia for up to seven months at a time, picking fruit and vegetables. 

The Government, which based the scheme on New Zealand’s successful Pacific programme, will invite Pacific nations to take part in the scheme which are not already being used to ease shortages in New Zealand in their guest-worker programme.  However, some people have questioned whether the Government has made the right choices.

Indigenous leader Warren Mundine says Aboriginal Australians should be encouraged to take up the jobs before the scheme is implemented.  He says local resources of labour supply should be totally exhausted before looking off shore, and that large numbers of indigenous Australians were living unemployed in horticultural regions of Australia. 

"It is not rocket science here. We could actually move Aboriginal people across into these jobs," he said to ABC Television.  "Thirty years ago, 20 years ago, we were the fruit pickers. We were the cotton chippers. We did all this rural work, we were the unskilled labourers in the rural industry."

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said the local labour market will be exhausted before using foreign workers, and that the pilot programme will be subject to review to monitor its success.  Already the government encourages young people on an Australian working holiday visa to work in horticultural regions as seasonal workers; those who are on a working holiday visa and work in the industry for three months or more can apply for a second working holiday visa.

"The requirements that we will put in place will ensure that if there is an Australian, or someone based in Australia, who is ready, willing and able to work in the horticulture industry, then they'll get the jobs first," he told Macquarie Radio in Sydney.

Since discussions began about adopting the pilot scheme, an East Timorese government official Kevin Austin has been lobbying for his nation to be invited to participate.  East Timor is one of the world’s poorest nations and has an over-supply of young and unemployed unskilled labour which would benefit from such a scheme.  "These people (guest workers) certainly would assist in Timor's national and human security recovery and development," he told ABC Radio.

The government is also being urged to cover the extra costs associated with the scheme, including accommodation, flights, and higher wages, reports ABC News.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people apply for an Australia visa.

Article by Jessica Bird, Australian Visa Bureau.

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