BY BEN BILUA
AUSTRALIA is committed to keeping the doors open for Pacific seasonal workers and to ensuring conditions for workers arriving from Asia on new visa schemes match those of Pacific workers.
Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja made the announcement yesterday when speaking to journalists during a press conference.
Seselja said labour shortages in Australia meant there is room for both Pacific and Asian workers with no loss of places for the Pacific.
“It (the labour shortage) has been exacerbated obviously, with the inability of people from places like Europe and other, other places to easily come to Australia.
“And so that has meant, you know, a pretty significant shortage, particularly in agriculture. So, yes, there will be absolutely room for both schemes,” he said.
Last week experts warned the ASEAN Agriculture Visa announced by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud was a threat to Pacific seasonal workers as it would be easier and cheaper for employers to participate.
But Seselja said any visa for workers from ASEAN would have the same conditions as schemes for Pacific workers.
Since COVID-19 record numbers of Pacific workers have been travelling to Austtralia under the Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme.
Seselja said over 9,000 seasonal workers from the Pacific had arrived in Australia since COVID related border restrictions were imposed, adding to around 8000 who stayed on after COVID hit.
Regulations governing the agricultural visa for ASEAN workers have yet to be drawn up.
“The first thing I would say is that Mr. Littleproud himself has made it clear and I reiterate that any Agriculture visa would mirror the conditions, would mirror the conditions that we have with the Pacific labour scheme.
“So, it would not be in any way. And the Seasonal Worker programme will not be in any way looking to undercut that.
“In fact, I’ll go further than that and say, what this Agriculture visa would be seeking to do is to complement and enhance what we have with, with our Pacific schemes.
“Because this scheme, is this specific scheme is very, very important to Australia. We, we value those workers,” Seselja said.
He said the Pacific Labour Scheme provides a two way benefits for Australia and countries in the pacific through remittances and filling shortage of labour in Australia.
Seselja said Australia understand that the Pacific Labour Scheme has and will continue to leverage challenging caused by COVID-19 to Pacific island economy.
“We know that remittances are important in many countries across the region.
“We know that the economic hit of COVID. This has been an important part of dealing with very challenging economic times to see those remittances going back into the region.
“So, we get how important it is to our Pacific neighbours,” he said.
“There’s no way at the moment that I mean, notwithstanding our best efforts, and even with a ramp up with the worker ready pool, we know that we will need more workers from the Pacific and other places that there is a significant worker shortage in Australia at the moment,” Seselja said.