Seasonal Worker Program a growing trend for Top End farms

Seasonal Worker Program a growing trend for Top End farms

Seasonal Worker Program a growing trend for Top End farms

Updated 15 May 2017, 10:05 AEST

A growing number of farms in northern Australia are bypassing the backpackers turn to the Seasonal Worker Program to fill labour gaps.

A growing number of farms in northern Australia are turning to the Seasonal Worker Program to fill labour gaps, especially during harvest time.

The program was established in 2012 and, apart from helping Australian farmers, it is designed to help the economic development of the 10 participating nations, which include Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Timor-Leste (East Timor).

Managing director of employment agency The Job Shop, Andrew Coldbeck, said the number of seasonal workers employed by Northern Territory farms rose by 33 per cent last year, and other regions were following the trend.

"We've seen a big shift in interest towards the Seasonal Worker Program in places like Kununurra [in Western Australia] and it looks like there'll be more growers trialling it this year for the first time," he told ABC Rural.

"There's a number of reasons why they're getting into this. They're looking to have a more stable workforce and the fact they can get returning workers year-in-year-out is very appealing."

What about the backpackers?

Mr Coldbeck said his business had traditionally focussed on organising backpackers to work on farms and to assist them with their working holiday visas.

He said his company had now adapted to the obvious demand for the Seasonal Worker Program.

"We've watched the program evolve and grow, and seen the demand change, so we felt it was important to be a part of it," he said.

"We still believe there's going to be a place for backpackers, but the Seasonal Worker Program will certainly have an impact on the numbers that are required."

Mr Coldbeck said the feedback from farms, especially those who had taken on Timorese workers was overwhelmingly positive, and word was spreading.

Kimberley farm hires its first team of Timorese workers

Melanie Gray from Ceres Farm in the Kimberley's Ord Irrigation Scheme said, after hearing from colleagues about their positive experiences hiring Timorese workers, she organised a team for her farm this year.

She said it required "a fair bit of paperwork", but the four Timorese workers who have been at Ceres for a month "had been fantastic".

"So far they've been weeding in the paddock, as well as picking and some packing," she said.

"They've got a lovely nature, always happy and smiling.

"For us it's a trial at the moment, but so far we're very happy with the process and the progress."

Ms Gray said the farm also hired backpackers.

"I think you need both in the workplace," she said.

"For our picking team we're using Timorese and for our packing team we're still using the backpackers.

"So we still have backpackers here, they fill in the shorter gaps and the Timorese we're using for the longer four to six-month period, and I think you need both in the business."

The ABC understands that at this stage the Seasonal Worker Program will be unaffected by the Federal Government's new levy on the temporary workers' visa for skilled foreign workers.

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