Farmers employing Pacific island workers through the Australian Government’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) are also joining the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) – realising the benefits of having a trained workforce for up to three years.
Farmers can recruit low and semi-skilled workers from nine Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste when there is not enough local Australian labour to meet demand. Workers can remain in Australia for nine months under the SWP or up to three years through the PLS, meeting both seasonal and non-seasonal employment needs.
Employer feedback on the performance of Pacific island workers has been positive. Both the SWP and PLS have proven to be a valuable source of labour and complement growers’ mix of locals and working holiday makers.
One farm realising this potential is Skybury Tropical Plantation in Mareeba, Queensland. Skybury grows coffee and Red Papaya on 450-acres. Like other farms in the district, Skybury faced labour shortages and joined the SWP in early 2018, recruiting workers from Papua New Guinea (PNG).
“For us there is a cost to recruiting and training workers, so the more stable our workforce, the more productive we can be.”
Skybury’s Business Development Manager Paul Fagg said transitioning some workers over to the Pacific Labour Scheme would allow the business to keep them for longer.
“We’ve always looked to employ people who can bring the right skills and experience to our business. If we can’t get those locally, then we look further afield,” he said.
“I think the Seasonal Worker Programme was a bit of a ‘let’s see how this works for us, let’s dip our toe in the water’, but certainly it has worked very well for us.
“The team leaders of our picking crews will argue each morning over who gets the PNG workers because they’re so good at what they do! So, they’ve really brought enthusiasm to the operation and a great work ethic as well.
“Our longer-term plan is to bring more Pacific island workers over, identifying those with managerial skills and transitioning them over to the Pacific Labour Scheme so we can have them here for longer.”
Many workers from the Pacific islands bring generations of farming experience to Australia and are accustomed to agricultural work.
The Pacific islands are rural-based communities where 70-85 per cent of the population rely on small-scale agriculture to meet their daily needs. Agricultural exports in the region are dominated by coconut products, coffee, palm oil, beef, bananas and cocoa.
Australia’s closest neighbour, PNG, has a population of approximately 8.3 million. 80-85 per cent of people directly derive their livelihood from farming.
This represents a large untapped source of labour for Australian farmers who require experienced and physically fit workers.