Australia’s SWP grows, meets cap


For the first time since inception Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) for Pacific Island and Timor Leste horticulture workers met the government specified cap for seasonal workers this year. <!--more-->This was revealed at a one-and-a-half day SWP conference on the Gold Coast last week, which employers, representatives from labour sending countries, Australian Government officials and other stakeholders attended.

[caption id="attachment_6326" align="alignleft" width="326"]<a href=""><img class="size-full wp-image-6326" alt="A section of the audience at the SWP conference on the Gold Coast last week. Photo: Dev Nadkarni" src="" width="326" height="217" /></a> A section of the audience at the SWP conference on the Gold Coast last week. Photo: Dev Nadkarni[/caption]

The programme, which is at the mid point of its four-year tenure, has 52 enterprises that have employed seasonal workers from eight Pacific Island countries – Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, Tuvalu – and Timor Leste. Workers are employed in some 50 local government areas, mostly in the states of Queensland and Victoria. Tongans comprise a disproportionate 75 per cent of Australia’s seasonal workforce pool.

Australian Department of Employment Manager Mark Roddam, who is responsible for the SWP, presented a comprehensive overview of the programme with in-depth statistical analyses and perceptive observations on several of its aspects. Other presenters revealed that the output of seasonal workers was far better than that of working holidaymakers (WHM) that have been traditionally employed in Australia for seasonal work over several decades.

The WHM was never intended to be a labour programme and despite the low efficiency as compared to the SWP, it seemed to be more popular with employers. The reason was put down to the SWP being new and the fact that it needed to be popularised among horticulture enterprises nationwide. Employers who had experience working with seasonal workers testified to greater outputs, better productivity and more economic efficiencies.

These and other observations and revelations reflected similar experiences in New Zealand’s older and more entrenched Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, with which the Auckland office of <b>Pacific Islands Trade &amp; Invest (PT&amp;I)</b> has been associated since the beginning: Returning workers tended to be more efficient than first time workers; there was a high tendency for serious injuries; there was need for better pre-departure training and preparedness and better pastoral care in the host countries.

Also like the RSE scheme, the SWP is adding value to the programme with an add-on skills initiative. Increasing numbers of seasonal farm workers are receiving training in literacy, numeracy and first aid routines. One of the more interesting presentations was on the cultural aspects of the SWP. Australian National University researchers emphasised the need for developing cultural sensitivities and empathy for the workers among the employers. It discussed several pertinent issues that could be addressed with better cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity.

<b>PT&amp;I</b> Acting Trade Commissioner and Head of Investment Manuel Valdez presented a case study on a successful investment project between a New Zealand employer and their former seasonal employee from Tanna in Vanuatu. Representatives from several labour sending countries as well as labour contractors and other stakeholders advised the audience on their respective experiences working with seasonal workers.

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