With the aim of strengthening Australia’s ties with Pacific Island nations, the federal government is extending the scope of the Pacific Labour Scheme.
As China looks to increase its presence in the region, Australia has recently announced a string of initiatives to improve relations with our neighbours.
This week the government extended the Pacific Labour Scheme from the six countries it is open to, including Tonga and opening discussions with Papua New Guinea to join as well.
In addition, the scheme has been uncapped and the current limit of 2,000 places for migrant workers removed.
“These measures will help farmers and regional communities get the workers they need, when they need them. Australia will continue to prioritise the Pacific to help fill jobs where Australian workers are not able to do so,” said a joint statement from Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
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NFF chief executive Tony Mahar welcomed the government’s attempts to improve labour availability, but said the jury was still out on the effectiveness of the extension of the Pacific Labour Scheme.
"Agriculture is currently being crippled by a shear lack of available people power. Farmers just can't find the workers they need to get the job,” Mr Mahar said.
“Whether the changes to the Pacific Labour Scheme will form part of this solution, remains to be seen. We will need to wait to see the expanded Scheme in action."
The Pacific Labour Scheme differs from the Season Worker Program.
The Pacific Labour scheme is targeted at semi-skilled labour and migrants can work for three years in Australia under the program. It is run by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
The Seasonal worker program allows workers into Australia for nine month stints and is restricted to unskilled labour. , which run by the Department of Jobs.
Farm workforce shortages have been thrust into the news as the Nationals have failed in their bid to have government create a new class of agricultural visa.
The horticulture sector needs workers to fill shortages that are biting as the fruit picking harvest approaches.
A fortnight ago, the government announced several alternate measures to improve farm labour availability.
The annual backpacker intake was raised, under the Working Holiday Maker visa. But the number of extra entrants is yet to be determined and negotiations with partner countries is ongoing.
The Seasonal Worker Program, also for Pacific Island nations, has been increased with and the work period extended from six to nine months.
Employer expenses were reduced - where workers repay their full travel costs except for the first $300, which is a reduction from the previous $500.
Under this scheme workers from these countries must be provided a minimum average of 30 hours per week for up to six months.
The National Farmers' Federation offered in-principle support to the extension of the Pacific Labour Scheme, viewing the move as another tool in the toolbox to solve agriculture's labour shortage.