15 January 2009

Farmers frustrated at lack of communication regarding Australia's Pacific guest worker scheme

Australian fruit farmers are expressing their frustrations to the Government over the lack of information sharing in the lead up to the first wave of Pacific guest workers, reports The Australian.

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 Pacific Islanders on special Australian visas would start the trial scheme in Swan Hill of Victoria and Griffith of New South Wales.

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. 

Gay Tripodi, a farmer from Swan Hill, said the Government's lack of communication with farmers regarding the details of the scheme and costs is worrying. 

"We're in the middle of our fruit harvest and we haven't received one email or fax ... There's been no communication," she told The Australian.

Farmers have been told they are responsible for the airfares, medical costs and accommodation for their guest workers, yet Ms Tripodi confirms the Government has not yet provided details of how much this would cost farmers.

Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Duncan Kerr said the constant delays to the scheme ensured the Government avoided cause for complaints with the pilot programme.

"We don't want to have in any way a situation where people can be critical of this scheme as if it is undercutting Australian labour standards - we want to make sure it is a win-win outcome for the region, the Pacific and for Australian farmers," Mr Kerr said.

Regional migration co-ordinator for the Swan Hill City Council, Deborah Quin, said the Government could not confirm costs to farmers until they have decided on the labour-hire company to use, but that farmers would only be required to meet half the airfare to Australia.

National Farmers' Federation president Ben Fargher said despite the frustration at the lack of communication between farmers and the Government, the NFF would support the pilot programme so that it could eventually expand to other struggling horticultural regions of Australia.

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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