Pacific Media Watch

24 June 2015

TONGA: Australia drops 'cap' on Pacific labourer access

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Tongan seasonal workers at Ironbark Citrus, Queensland. Image:

NUKU'ALOFA (Matangi Tonga Online/ Pacific Media Watch): The Australian government has removed a cap on its seasonal worker programme (SWP) meaning there will be no longer be a limit to the number of workers from participating Pacific Islands countries.

The Office of the Chief Trade Adviser (OCTA) has said that the Australian government announced the changes in a Commonwealth White Paper on plans to develop northern Australia.

The programme helps Australian businesses to employ workers from participating Pacific Islands countries (PICs) when they cannot find enough local labour to satisfy seasonal demand.

The Australian government will expand the SWP to better address seasonal labour shortages in the north.

The paper also recommended that, subject to the conclusion of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) regional trade agreement, the Australian government would invite additional PICs to join the programme, potentially the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Palau and Marshall Islands.

Also proposed was the expansion of the seasonal worker programmed to cover the broader agriculture industry and the accommodation sector on an ongoing basis and invited the northern Australia tourism industry to suggest proposals to trial the SWP in tourism sectors other than accommodation.

The paper stated,“in recognition of the challenges faced by microstates, the White Paper proposes the establishment of a special multi-year visa to 250 citizens from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu to work in lower skills occupations in selected industries in northern Australia.”

Labour mobility
The OCTA also added that regional labour mobility was one of the key issues in the PACER Plus negotiations.

The Chief Trade Adviser for PICs, Dr Edwini Kessie, said he was encouraged by the unveiling of the White Paper which responded positively to the key negotiating demands of the Pacific Islands countries.

“The announcement by the Australian government is significant as it underscores the importance of increased labour mobility in the Pacific," he said.

"The greater access to the Australian labour market by workers from the Pacific islands countries will lead to increased remittances and the upgrading of skills of the workers who upon their return can establish businesses which will generate jobs and contribute to the long term economic growth and sustainable development of their countries.”

The parties intend to conclude PACER Plus negotiations by September 2016.

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