As Australian farmers grapple with the problem of a severe shortage of seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers because of border restrictions, a second group of workers from the Pacific island of Vanuatu has arrived in the Northern Territory.
The 161 workers arrived in Darwin yesterday and will help meet critical workforce shortages in the mango and citrus industries.
An initial group of 162 workers, also from Vanuatu, arrived in early September to work with Top End mango farmers as part of a trial in the wake of the stringent COVID-19 border regulations that are keeping Australia’s national borders largely closed.
Nine countries have now signed up
According to the Federal government, nine countries have now signed on to participate in the reopening of the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme.
The scheme operated successfully for many years prior to the pandemic and complemented the picking work done by foreign backpackers. Typically Australian workers have shunned seasonal fruit and vegetable picking jobs.
Speaking as yesterday’s group of 161 workers flew into Darwin, the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud, said the new arrivals would add to the group who arrived last month under the successful trial to help mango farmers.
Must help farmers to access labour
“Mangoes are a significant economic driver for many Top End communities and for the nation more broadly, and it’s vital we support farmers to access labour,” Littleproud said.
“COVID-19 restrictions have placed unprecedented pressure on the supply of workers and that is why the Australian Government is working with industry and the Territory government to get workers in where they are needed most.
“The seasonal workers will assist with the mango harvest and can then move interstate to support other crop harvests.”
Encourage jobless Aussies to pick
He said the government would continue to do everything in its our power to help the farming sector and regional communities overcome the challenges presented by the pandemic.
“I want to continue to encourage Australians looking for work to think about taking up a harvest job – picking our fruit and vegetables is important work and there are lots of job opportunities available across the nation.
“But where industry can’t get workers, the Seasonal Worker Programme fills an important gap.”