By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard

Last weekend the ABC’s Landline gave the Pacific labour programs and their current challenges the sort of coverage that was long overdue, and in contrast to previous reporting, was also comprehensive and balanced.

Now a spoiler alert for those who missed the episode but intend on catching up.

The main takeaway is that while the Pacific labour programs may have their challenges right now, driven largely by the current COVID induced labour shortage, they remain hugely valued both in the Pacific and Australia, and are on the improve.

Landline rightly highlighted as an issue the increased incidences of workers absconding, lured from their accredited host employers by a few dodgy labour hire firms operating with self interest and outside the law.

On one side of the coin, Federal agencies can do more to dissuade these dodgy operators from being so brazen in their efforts to lure workers away by presenting a more clear and present threat of enforcement.

On the other side of the same coin, as an industry and individually we need to take a stand by reporting to authorities all instances where we suspect a worker of having absconded, even and especially if they’re on our own farm.

Our seasonal labour workforce is about to go through a period of change.

As a result of recent deals and decisions made by the Federal Government the dominance of the backpacker cohort will likely decrease, with these Pacific labour programs due to expand in their place.

This is a good thing. While workers from the Pacific may be more expensive to recruit, they are known to be more reliable and productive. They often return year on year.

COVID-19 has caused many growers to try workers from the Pacific for the first time. Many are now rethinking about going back to only employing backpackers.

So all stakeholders have a duty to improve these programs where we can, and employment practices too.  

Through Growcom’s Fair Farms program industry is working hard to ensure all workers, and especially those from the Pacific, are treated equitable and fairly by raising awareness, delivering training, and accrediting ethical employers.

Together with industry colleagues, Growcom has welcomed recent reforms to the administration of these programs announced by the Federal Government.

This includes consolidation of the two programs into the singular Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, to be known as PALM and administered by DFAT, bringing greater flexibility, less red tape, and efficiencies for employers. For more on PALM visit www.palmscheme.gov.au and on Fair Farms at www.fairfarms.com.au