22 Aug 2006

Australian government agency opposes call for short-term labour from the Pacific

7:38 pm on 22 August 2006

Australian government officials are denying there is a shortage of workers in the country's horticulture sector, delivering a setback to the push by Pacific countries for access to the Australian labour market.

A Senate inquiry has been told by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations that existing migration and other government schemes meant there was no justification for such a radical solution.

The Department also says that the demands on prospective employers to cover transport, accommodation and health costs made such a scheme too risky.

The Australian government has been resisting calls from Australian farmers, Pacific nations and bodies such as the World Bank to allow Pacific Island workers to help harvest fruit and vegetable crops.

Fiji's High Commissioner to Canberra, Amraiya Naidu, told the Senators that for the 17,000 school leavers every year in Fiji, there were perhaps just 2,000 jobs available, and seasonal work in Australia would be valuable to his country.

He says poverty alleviation is a crucial issue for the Pacific.

And the National Farmers' Federation told the inquiry such a scheme would help stamp out the employment of illegal workers and improve conditions on farms for all workers.