Pacific Island solution to shortage of seasonal horticulture workers

Posted by Isobel Drake on 18th August 2008

The Australian Government will implement a pilot program to trial the National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF’s) Workforce from Abroad Employment Scheme – yesterday approving a new Pacific Island seasonal workers visa in key horticultural regions.

The announcement has been warmly welcomed by NFF Vice-President Charles Burke, who co-launched the program with Agriculture Minister Tony Burke at the Marrickville Fruit and Vegetable Markets in Sydney today. “The Government and NFF’s shared vision for overcoming the chronic nationwide shortfall of 22,000 seasonal workers in horticulture should be widely applauded given there are benefits for all concerned,” Mr Burke reported. “Today’s announcement is the culmination of three years’ work for the NFF and is a testament to what can be achieved through Government-Industry collaboration. Naturally, this three-year pilot will deal with the most critical horticultural regions suffering labour shortages – such as Swan Hill (Victoria) and Griffith (NSW).”

“This will be the ‘litmus test’ for a national scheme to enable horticultural farmers to maximise their growth potential and increase food production. As a labour-intensive sector, horticulture’s future depends on a reliable seasonal workforce, and unprecedented growth is in the offing,” he added. “Horticulture contributes over $7 billion-a-year to the national economy, yet both Swan Hill and Griffith, despite being relatively small areas, contribute around $500 million each – with conservative predictions of growth up to $1 billion over three years in Swan Hill alone. Of course, that is premised on the ability to find labour.”

NFF President David Crombie believes the strategy will provide great benefit to all involved. “This scheme is founded on the principal of mutual benefits for farmers and employees. It provides the workforce we desperately need and, in turn, we provide new skills and training to employees coming to Australia – skills they then take home,” he said. “Further, the remuneration each temporary employee receives, at Australian market rates, far exceeds what they could earn at home – representing a boost for them, their families and their local economies. While they will take home a significant amount of money, even more importantly, the experience they gain from working alongside the world’s best fruit and vegetable producers is a vital stepping stone toward ongoing development in Pacific Island countries.”

“The NFF’s extensive analysis to quantify labour shortages, proactively drive a solution and develop safeguards to underpin the scheme, I think, has been greatly valued by the Government,” Mr Crombie suggested. “Importantly, the Government has also recognised that the benefits extend beyond just addressing workforce numbers. The scheme will build and reinvigorate regional communities across Australia, generating new services and jobs to meet the influx of employee demand… a much-needed shot in the arm for local economies.”

The first of the 2,500 seasonal workers are expected for the peak harvest seasons later this year.