The ABC radio Pacific Beat ran a discussion last week on the topic and raised an interesting point which I have highlighted in the transcript below - that of the social implications - isolation of some workers from their families - and a solution to bring groups of people from one village/community and to develop a network or relationship between the farming community in Australia and a Pacific island village group. Already many Pacific Islanders who do legally or illegally work on farms do so to help build a church or community hall, etc. back home. That has been the reason for groups of people going to places like New Zealand even forty years ago.
Plans for Pacific Islanders to work in Australia
Updated Wed Jun 4, 2008 2:53pm AEST
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Australian horticultural organisations are refinning (sp.!) their proposals for Pacific Islanders to come and work in Australia to plug seasonal labour shortages. The national lobby group Horticulture Australia, has submitted a proposal to the federal government for a trial program inviting Pacific Islanders to work in communities in 5 states and the Northern territory. Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has promised Pacific Island leaders he will make announcement on the future of a seasonal labour scheme at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Niue in August.
Presenter: Alice Plate
Speaker:Kris Newton, CEO of Horticulture Australia
PLATE: The pilot proposes a three year scheme that would employ at least two-and-a-half-thousand people across 11 horticultural regions around Australia, with workers staying between three and six months.
But a scheme in New Zealand has already been criticised for not providing enough social support for seasonal workers, who were often isolated from family, with some turning to gambling or alcohol.
But CEO of the Horticultural Australia Council, Kris Newton, said they have developed a scheme which aims to avoid the mistakes of the past.
NEWTON: One of the issues that we had with the New Zealand model is that it's based on labour hire, contract companies and what we're trying to do is to base ours on the regional model, the community-to-community model. So, for example, an individual village in Fiji or a particular island in Tonga, might have a direct relationship with an individual community here in Australia, that might be Robiinvale, or it might be Bundaberg or whatever, and that would be an ongoing relationship, so we would build understanding, we would build cultural and social support networks at the regional level. We're suggesting that there should be a Regional Steering Committee in each region that's taking on one of the pilots and they would have multilingual liaison from that particular cultural group, as part of the Steering Committee.
PLATE: And who would be on the Steering Committees and who would fund all that?
NEWTON: What we have chosen for our initial range pilots and that's by no means exhaustive or limited are areas where there are existing infrastructures that we think can be quickly and easily built on, which have representation from, for example, the local council, the local peak horticultural commodity groups within the region, perhaps the economic development groups, and so forth that already exist as the infrastructure. We can add quickly to those by, for example, liaison officers from the community that's coming to the receiving community in Australia.
PLATE: So everyone would burden the costs in that sense?
NEWTON: Exactly, and they would be responsible for against what we suggest should be a national set of selection criteria for employers, they would be responsible for selecting those employers to take part in the pilot who meet the selection criteria. So it's not open slather, it is controlled, but at the regional level.
PLATE: And what are you proposing these workers are paid?
NEWTON: Oh definitely, at a minimum whether their Australian counterparts are so there are awards. Sometimes individual states have awards, but as a fall back or a fault position, there is a national horticulture award 2000 and we're proposing that they should be paid and their conditions and so forth would be as a minimum against that award.
PLATE: Why did you choose to structure the pilot program like this? Why do you think it's going to be beneficial?
NEWTON: Eh, we think it will be beneficial to the growers, because they will have a group of people who over a period of time will become highly skilled, very work ready, when they return on their next visit. So Occupational, Health and Safety risks are reduced dramatically for the workers, as well as for the employers, skills are high, so produce maintains its quality. Next year's production is not compromised potentially by people who don't know, for example, the appropriate way to pick the fruit, or vegetable or nut and also because we think there are significant developmental benefits back in the sending country of the remittances that they take home with them, of the skills that they learn while they are here, and of the self-confidence of knowing that they have a highly valued skill in another country and that they are welcome back next year.
PLATE: So how likely do you think that it is that this pilot proposal will be accepted by the Federal Government and supported and if so, when would this all kick off?
NEWTON: We've put the proposal to government. I'm getting strong signals that this may get support from government. If we can be ready by the end of this year, certainly early next year, when all of our main harvest season starts.