26 November 2008

Griffith and Swan Hill to trial Pacific guest worker scheme

The Australian Government announced Swan Hill of Victoria and Griffith of New South Wales would be the first two rural areas to trial the Pacific Island guest worker scheme next year, reports Farmonline.

The Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme is a trial programme designed to engage workers from the Pacific Islands for use in the labour-stricken horticultural areas of Australia.  Under the pilot programme, 2,500 Pacific Islanders from Vanuatu, Tonga, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea will have the opportunity to work on farms in specified regions of Australia for up to seven months of the year.  Within a matter of weeks, 100 Australian visas would be available for Pacific Islanders to take part in the trial scheme.

The Government based the pilot scheme on New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employers Scheme, which has successfully helped farmers maintain maximum production levels and given Pacific Islanders learned skills and valuable remittances. 

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) has been lobbying for a scheme such as this to come to the aid of farmers in Australia, who for a long time have had tonnes of produce go to waste due to a lack of pickers. 

NFF president David Crombie said the success of this crucial programme relies on the support given to Swan Hill and Griffith.

"We congratulate the Swan Hill and Griffith communities on their success, with employees set to hit the ground for the second half of the current harvest season," Mr Crombie said.

"All horticultural farmers across Australia need to support Swan Hill and Griffith's efforts, as their success will determine the eventual roll-out of the pilot scheme over the next three years before, ultimately, covering all horticultural areas with labour needs."

Swan Hill and Griffith were chosen by the Government to host the trial programme because of their high production needs, scarce local employment prospects, and the readiness and capacity to facilitate the immediate needs of the Pacific Islanders such as accommodation, training options, pastoral care and community services.

Although the scheme would result in costs for farmers, Mr Crombie said the need to plug the 22,000-worker shortage is far more crucial to maintaining food production and keeping the horticultural industry afloat.

"It provides the workforce we desperately need, but, in turn, farmers provide new skills and training to employees coming to Australia – skills they then apply back home," he said.

As of July 2009, a further 2,400 Australian visas will be available for Pacific Islanders to participate in the Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme.

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in helping people with emigrating to Australia.

Article by Jessica Bird, Australian Visa Bureau.

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