Work ethic, reliability of Pacific Island workers promoted
THE prospect of being able to hire a reliable seasonal workforce drew strong crowds to a Seasonal Worker Program information session at Applethorpe.
International delegates from Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Fiji and Papua New Guinea plugged the value of their workers to growers and other stakeholders from Stanthorpe and beyond.
Growers heard testimonials from Thulimbah apple growers Ausfarm Fresh and Darling Downs vegetable growers GraceKate Farms about their experiences of hiring workers from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa under the SWP.
Representatives of the Labour Mobility Assistance Program, the Department of Jobs and Small Business, the Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland also presented.
The common thread was reliability, strong work ethic and a genuine desire to work - qualities all growers seek in their staff.
The international delegates represented four of the 10 participating countries in the Federal Government-funded SWP. In 2016/17, Australian employers hired 477 workers from Timor-Leste, 190 from Fiji, 139 from Papua New Guinea and just 87 from Solomon Islands compared with 2690 from Tonga and 2150 from Vanuatu.
Growers were informed of opportunities to diversify recruitment sources across the SWP countries, reducing the impact on the main sending countries.
The aim was also to ensure growers knew there were other options when some Pacific Island countries were hit by cyclones and could not send workers.
Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network project manager and southern Queensland officer Karen George said interest was strong locally.
"Securing a reliable and returning workforce can be a significant challenge for growers, and having more labour supply choices gives growers a greater ability to ensure their long-term viability,” she said.
"The strong turnout and solid engagement at this information session shows growers are hungry to learn more about how the Seasonal Worker Program can help their business.”
Solomon Islands director of trade George Tuti told growers his country was in a solid position to help.
"By Pacific standards, we've got a large population so we are more than happy to supply a good number of workers where there are shortages in the agriculture sector,” Mr Tuti told participants at the meeting.
"We've got more than 600,000 people, 80 per cent living in rural areas.
"Subsistence farming is just a way of life so our workers have useful experience for working on Queensland farms.”
The trip involved visiting several farms to give labour sending departmental staff first-hand insights into the needs of Queensland growers and to better understand how their workers fit into the bigger picture.
Kerry McCarthy, from GraceKate Farms, told growers the SWP had been a game-changer for her business.
"The Seasonal Worker Program gave us the boost we needed to expand our operation and we could not do what we do without our teams from Solomon Islands,” she said.
"It gives us confidence to know the SWP has such strong government support both in Australia and abroad, and we encourage any interested growers to get involved.”
SWP information sessions were also strongly attended in Mareeba and Bowen.
For information about participating countries and contact points, visit www.jobs. gov.au/participating-count- ries-and-contact- points.