30 Aug 2007

Australian minister raises fear of flood of illegal arrivals if short-term Pacific workers let in

7:37 pm on 30 August 2007

The Australian Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, says allowing unskilled workers into Australia would prompt a flood of Pacific Islanders arriving by boat.

The Australian opposition Labour Party is reportedly considering a guest worker scheme under which Pacific islanders could come to Australia temporarily to help ease critical labour shortages in the agricultural sector.

They would likely work as seasonal fruit-pickers or in similar occupations and could send their wages back to their struggling home countries.

The National Farmers Federation has been lobbying the government for 18 months to provide short-term visas for guest workers.

The World Bank also has urged Canberra to adopt a guest worker scheme to help out Pacific nations that are struggling with high unemployment rates.

But Mr Andrews says allowing in unskilled Pacific Islanders would not alleviate labour shortages.

He says instead it would undercut wages and conditions.

Mr Andrews calls it an irresponsible policy would inevitably result in a flood of illegal boat arrivals heading to Australia.

However, earlier this month Foreign Minister Alexander Downer suggested Canberra was keeping its options open about allowing in unskilled workers from the Pacific.

He says the Government is assessing the effectiveness of the new New Zealand programme to allow in workers on short-term visas.