13 Jan 2009

Start of Australia's Pacific labour scheme belayed by weeks

1:34 pm on 13 January 2009

The Australian government says a plan to allow Pacific island workers into Australia is on track despite a delay.

The government had planned to welcome the first batch of guest workers, who will work as fruit pickers in rural areas, in late December.

But the parliamentary secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Duncan Kerr, now says it was likely to happen at the end of January.

Mr Kerr has told ABC Television that the government wants to make sure the scheme is absolutely watertight and protects those who are participating in it.

Up to 2,500 Pacific workers are likely to be employed during the next three years.

He says the scheme was still a good idea despite rising unemployment due to the financial crisis.

Mr Kerr says employers will have to show they have not been able to fill the jobs with Australian workers before using the guest worker scheme.