Vila Times

Australian farmers concerned about the future of Seasonal Worker Programme

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Pacific Island nations and Queensland farming communities are maintaining their support for the Federal Government-run Seasonal Worker Programme but have vowed to crack down on rogue operators.

Queensland farmers who rely on Pacific Island workers to pick fruit are worried the whole scheme is getting a bad image because of rogue players, ABC Rural reports.

Three Tongan workers have died in the past year, bringing to 12, the number of seasonal workers who have died in five years in Australia.

The ABC has reported on squalid living conditions, low pay, and labour hire contractors sponging off the scheme; stories which came out in the Government inquiry on Modern Slavery.

More than 19,000 seasonal workers have come already, according to the Department of Employment.

The Tongan and Vanuatu Governments have told the ABC they support the program as a valuable source of work and income for their countries.

The Tongan official responsible for the seasonal workers, Fanau’ifo’ou Akau’ola told Radio Australia, the number going to Australia is up on last year; 2,624 last financial year, to 2,690 this year.

Tonga sends 2000 workers a year to work in New Zealand, where there are Liaison Officers to help them adjust.

Akau’ola said appointing Pacific Island Liaison officers in Australia early in 2018 would help provide safe avenues for complaints to be heard.

“We have two liaison officers in New Zealand, and that’s what we’re doing for Australia – they should be on board by the beginning of next year.”

Vanuatu’s Government supports widening the scheme to get more people to work in Australia.