IMAGE: Jason Mani from Malaita province in Solomon Islands harvest vegetables at GraceKate Farms. Photo: Pacific Labour Facility.
Dozens of Queensland growers in places like Emerald, Mundubbera and Stanthorpe who can’t find enough local labour to meet their seasonal needs have been sourcing workers through the Australian Government’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) since 2012.
Now, eligible growers who want more stability in their workforce planning are also looking to the Government’s new Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), when local labour is not available.
While the SWP allows farmers to recruit unskilled workers from nine Pacific countries and Timor-Leste for nine months, the PLS enables employers to also recruit low and semi-skilled workers for a longer period of one to three years, subject to local market testing requirements.
Kerry and Simon McCarthy own and manage GraceKate Farms on the Darling Downs. They supply leafy greens to Woolworths, Coles and Aldi, as well as to the Brisbane markets at Rocklea.
They have employed workers from the Solomon Islands through the SWP to help manage and harvest their crops for several years. Many of these workers return to the farm for multiple seasons.
Last year the couple created an independent labour hire company, Harvest Hands, to recruit seasonal workers for themselves and other local growers, and to explore longer term recruitment options through the PLS.
“Having these workers on the farm has enabled us to expand our business. We would not have been nearly as big as we are now if they weren’t here, because local labour is so scarce,” Kerry said.
“They want to work, they’re highly productive and they hit the ground running. Our team from Solomon Islands is fabulous and because of them we are now more able to plan ahead.”
The McCarthys have now realised they need workers for longer to support their larger business and will look to the PLS to help fill this need, bringing their most regular seasonal employee back under the new labour scheme.
“Our work is mostly seasonal, and we are a small operation, but even in the down time there is lots of behind-the-scenes work to be done – getting paddocks ready, maintaining equipment and so on,” Kerry said.
“It will be great to get a more permanent workforce on the ground soon to help us prepare for the harvesting season.
“We’ll see how this goes and then we might look at recruiting some more workers through the PLS over the next year or so.”
For an employer checklist or an application form, go to the Australian Government’s Pacific Labour Scheme page at https://dfat.gov.au/labourmobility