Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fiji missed out but Tongans got the job


from w
Though Fiji missed out on the short-term guest worker scheme for Australia, and we all know why, but a couple of days ago a group of fifty Tongans arrived in Australia to work in the horticulture industry at Robinvale on the Murray River. For years Pacific Islanders have worked (legally and illegally) in the fruit industry, living in picker's huts and earning money to send home to relatives. Farmers want labour, and Aussie men and women, even when unemployed, are not happy to do this kind of work in the hot sun. Robinvale is a lovely little town -(I lived there one year when I taught at Robinvale High School) - with mainly grape-growing and along the river many farmers want labour for grapes, oranges, etc. Good luck to the Tongan men who have been given these jobs. They should fit well into the Robinvale community which already has a large Tongan community and at least two Tongan churches. A few months ago we talked with Duncan Kerr about this scheme, really stressing how valuable it is to Pacific Islanders, and Fiji may be on the list, one day - such as when there is an election! Of course there are academics such as Bob Birrell, a population expert, who insists that Aussies should get jobs first - okay, but if they won't do the job, then....

Seasonal guest workers arrive from Pacific
PM - Monday, 16 February , 2009 18:38:00 ABC Radio
Reporter: Meredith Griffiths

MARK COLVIN: A group of 50 Tongans flew into Australia today the first contingent of unskilled workers brought to pick fruit on Australian farms under the Federal Government's Pacific guest workers scheme.

The pilot program was announced last August, before the global financial crash.

Is it still right to import labourers amidst fears of growing unemployment in Australia?

Meredith Griffiths has this report.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: This morning the Prime Minister of Tonga said farewell to 50 people flying out to begin work picking almonds in Victoria's Murray Valley.

Tongan newspaper editor, Kalafi Moala, says many Tongans are applying for the two-and-a-half thousand seasonal guest worker visas now made available by the Australian Government.

KALAFI MOALA: You're looking at a huge source of finance for a lot of these families, because these are people that are going out and they haven't had any jobs here.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The Federal Government announced the three-year trial Pacific Seasonal Worker Scheme in August last year, but that was before the global financial crisis.

Dr Bob Birrell is from the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University.

BOB BIRRELL: This decision was taken at a time when most decision-makers thought there would be a long-term shortage of labour in Australia and that clearly is not going to be the case in the foreseeable future.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: He says the Government should be doing more to encourage Australians to move to areas of workforce need.

So would you like to see the Government scrap the program?

BOB BIRRELL: I don't think they're going to do that. There was a decision made and the bureaucracy's in process, but I would hope that once this trial is complete, that's the last we hear of it.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Some of Bob Birrell's concerns have been echoed by the Federal Opposition's immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone.

SHARMAN STONE: We do hope the Rudd Labor Government is keeping a close eye on local unemployed in those areas, so we're not simply replacing jobs for locals with jobs for imported labour.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: But the Australian Workers Union says it's confident that the Pacific Islanders who arrive under the scheme this year will not be taking jobs that Australians need.

Paul Howes is the union's national secretary.

PAUL HOWES: You're not talking about huge amounts of workers and you're talking about a sector that this year still has a shortfall of 100,000 workers.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Paul Howes says the Government may need to review the number of seasonal guest worker visas it offers but says the scheme has safeguards to ensure locals aren't disadvantaged.

PAUL HOWES: And it ensures the participation of local communities in approving the employers who get this labour. Now if there is a circumstance where a local community have an excess of unemployed workers who want that work and where Australians are being turned away, then those employers will not get the permits to be able to use this labour.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Social justice advocate Jill Finnane from the Edmund Rice Centre says while the Federal Government works to handle the local impact of the economic crisis; it must not neglect its neighbours.

JILL FINNANE: The Pacific Islanders have been asking for this for a long, long time. They have a great need, huge unemployment, especially among young people in their countries and the remittances that they send back to their country are absolutely hugely important in taking them from a level of poverty that we can't even imagine here in Australia.

So, I do think we do need to find work for our unemployed here in Australia, but I don't think that many of the unemployed here in Australia are actually looking for fruit picking work. I just don't see that there's a competing issue here.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Workers from Vanuatu and Kiribas have also been invited to apply for visas under the pilot scheme.

MARK COLVIN: That report from Meredith Griffiths.


from Weekly Times
Pacific Island guest workers en route to Robinvale
David McKenzie
February 16, 2009

THE first 50 workers under the Pacific Island guest worker scheme have arrived and will soon be helping out with the almond harvest in Robinvale. Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke said the workers from Tonga would attend an induction day before travelling to Robinvale. They said two labour hire companies - Tree Minders in Victoria and NSW-based Griffith Skills Training - had been selected as the employers for the first tranche of up to 100 Pacific seasonal workers. Local advisory bodies had also been established in Griffith and Swan Hill to provide advice to growers, they said.

To date, four growers in the schemes two pilot areas - Swan Hill/Robinvale and Griffith - had submitted applications to employ workers, the ministers said. Under the pilot scheme, up to 2,500 visas will be available over three years for workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea to work in Australia for up to seven months in a year.

Evaluations will be conducted after 18 months and 30 months of operation. All Pacific seasonal workers will be employed in accordance with Australian work standards and awards.

Participating employers will pay half of the return air fares, and cover establishment costs involved in bringing the Pacific seasonal workers to Australia. Employers are required to put Australian job seekers first, the ministers said. Growers who wish to participate Scheme must demonstrate they've tested the local labour market by participating in labour market programs to train Australians, particularly income support recipients and Indigenous Australians.

Under the pilot, up to 2,500 visas will be available over three years for workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to work in Australia for up to seven months in any 12-month period.

An evaluation of the effectiveness of the Pilot will be conducted with reports to Government after 18 months and 30 months of operation.

AllPacific seasonal workers will be employed in accordance with Australian work standards and awards. Participating employers will pay half of the return air fares, and cover establishment costs involved in bringing workers to Australia.
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(later) They are settling into Robinvale, learning to drive tractors, etc. and already the local Aussie Rules footy club is asking them to come down and have a kick! Watch out though - they are probably rugby players. Another memo: don't invite them to al all-you-can-eat restaurant as they might take you seriously and not eat till they are full, but eat till they are tired! Some Pacific Islander groups were banned one time in Kong Kong from a restaurant because they ate everything available. Malo lelei and have a good day, guys.

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