Queensland growers who can’t find enough local workers during the busy harvest season are turning to the Australian Government’s Pacific labour mobility initiatives to help address their labour shortages.

These initiatives include the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and the complementary Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), which enable growers to recruit Pacific workers where they’ve failed to find locals to fill vacancies. The SWP enables employers to recruit Pacific workers for unskilled roles in the agriculture and accommodation sectors in select locations for up to nine months. The PLS allows employers to recruit workers for low-skilled and semi-skilled roles in all sectors for between one and three years.

Many of these businesses have found these initiatives to be highly beneficial for both themselves and the workers they have employed.

Ironbark Citrus, near Mundubbera has been bringing workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste to Australia through the SWP since 2001.

Operations Manager Hugh Tully said the business recruits around 80 seasonal workers each year for its Rosewood orchard, just outside Mundubbera.

Hugh said this currently includes around 30 Papua New Guineans, and their work ethic has been commendable.

“The Papua New Guineans want to work. They’ll show up rain, hail or shine and have a crack, and they do a good job,” he said.

“We can’t really find any locals to do the work. We will get a number of backpackers in but they’re really here for a holiday—they will come to work sometimes and won’t feel like doing it the next day.

“The SWP is probably the way to go for us because we know we’ve got workers showing up every day who are here to work and going to do a good job.”

Five of the regular seasonal workers at Ironbark Citrus are women from PNG’s highlands region. They have returned to Rosewood orchard for two seasons in a row, and for them the experience has been life-changing.

Women in PNG have generations of farming experience. They are responsible for most of the manual labour associated with food production, but are rarely compensated for their work.

One of Ironbark Citrus’ PNG workers, Alice Wali, said in her home town of Mt Hagen she wakes up every day at 5am to start work.

“We prepare breakfast and work in the garden, we dig trenches, level the land, fetch water and cook for the family,” Alice said.

“We look after the kids, carry them on our head along with a heavy bag of vegetables—we work like bulldozers!”

Prior to their recruitment by Ironbark Citrus, four of the women had never been on a plane, let alone travelled or lived overseas.

Since they first arrived in Australia in 2018, they have been able to start paying their children’s school fees. The also discovered eBay, and have ordered items online that were delivered to them at Mundubbera Caravan Park.

“I bought solar panels for my house and I also bought a laptop for my kids, and a tablet … then I downloaded all of the English grammar programs for my kids,” said another worker, Anna Koma. “It’s amazing!”

To find out if Pacific labour mobility meets your employment needs, visit pacificlabourmobility.com.au