Fruit Pickers And Information On Pacific Islander Workers Thin On Ground

Fruit Pickers And Information On Pacific Islander Workers Thin On Ground

Paul Maley
The Australian
November 20, 2008

FRUIT growers are frustrated that almost four months after a scheme to bring more than 2500 Pacific Island guest workers to work as seasonal pickers in Australia was given the green light, they are yet to hear from the Government about details or costs.

When Sue Brighenti heard about the scheme, she was thrilled.

Here was a chance to expand her 162ha citrus orchard just outside of Griffith. She could plant more trees, boost production and cut down on stock loss by pulling more fruit off the trees.

“One of the things that stops the horticulture industry from expanding is the fact that, even though we pay a lot more than any other country, we don't get the productivity out of the workers,” Ms Brighenti said.

She said a meeting several months ago between growers and bureaucrats from the Immigration and Workplace Relations departments yielded more questions than answers.

“Everyone had a different idea on how it was going to work,” she said.

“The fellow from immigration said there would be costs involved and they would be for repatriation, health costs, airfares, pastoral care. We don't know what these costs are going to involve.”

The National Farmers Federation, which for years had pushed the scheme, said yesterday it had yet to be briefed on how the program would be implemented.

NFF general manager of workplace relations Denita Wawn said of the pilot scheme to bring in fruit pickers from Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu: “We were concerned about this (delay) happening and certainly flagged at the time of their announcement that it was going to be difficult to get it by the time of this harvest.

“But I guess expectations have been created from the announcement that, I guess, have frustrated people.”

Ms Wawn said the NFF still supported the scheme, but confessed to feeling frustrated at the manner of its implementation.

A spokeswoman for Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard said yesterday the Government was working through the details of the policy with industry stakeholders and the countries involved.

The spokeswoman said the Government remained on track to bring in up to 100 workers for the first phase of the pilot by year's end. But in the absence of more detail, Ms Brighenti has cooled on the idea.

“I certainly wouldn't put my hand up for it,” she said.

“Who's actually going to be responsible for them over here? Is it the individual grower? Is it a committee of people who are going to run it? …

“If something goes wrong with this it will come back on the industry.

“We've been told we're going to be closely monitored by everyone: unions, taxation, immigration, everyone.

“I just think there's no co-ordination.”