Aust canegrowers concerned seasonal workers will be late for crushing | Pacific Beat

Aust canegrowers concerned seasonal workers will be late for crushing

Aust canegrowers concerned seasonal workers will be late for crushing

Updated 21 February 2012, 9:59 AEDT

Samoan authorities confident of getting workers to the Australian cane fields before July.

Fitu Fuimaono, head of the Samoa's Seasonal Workers' Unit says this after Australian canegrowers say they won't be able to use Pacific Islanders recruited under the seasonal workers scheme this year, unless the federal government changes the start date.

A three year trial of the scheme to address labour shortages in the cane, cotton and tourism sectors is due to begin in July .

Canegrowers wanted to employ haul-out operators for the five months of the cane harvest.

But, the Canegrowers Chief Operating Officer, Ron Mullins, told Natalie Poyhonen that they need people to start work in May.

Presenters: Natalie Poyhonen, Helene Hofman

Speakers: Canegrowers Chief Operating Officer, Ron Mullins; Fitu Fuimaono head of the Samoa's Seasonal Workers' Unit

MULLINS: It's highly unlikely that we'll be able to utilise inclusion in the Pacific Seasonal Workers pilot because it will operate from the 1st of July. Many of our mills start in either May or June, therefore we won't be able to take full advantage of this pilot initiative this year.

POYHONEN: How disappointing is that?

MULLINS: Fairly disappointing, because we have spoken to the Department of Immigration about the 1st of July and the problems that poses for us and they've said that they will enter into discussions with the minister to see whether or not they can actually bring our starting date forward, which would be ideal. Because it is not only a matter of sort of identifying where these pools of labour will come from, but making sure that they undertake training courses, because the main position that we're seeking to recruit for is for the haul out operators, that is people driving both tractors and trucks, hauling cane from the field to the mill tram line facilities. And these people do need to have drivers licence before they come to Australia, they do need to have good English skills, but it's very important that we actually train them. So they've really got to be here in a position to undertake these jobs in May or June, not from July.

POYHONEN: Which doesn't really appear that feasible after you've mentioned that enormous check list that you have to go through in order to basically hit the ground running with these workers?

MULLINS: Yes, we are a net loser of these haul out drivers. They are very employable in the resource sector and we anticipate that up to 25% of that workforce, which would have been engaged last year will actually go to the resource sector and that's about 500 positions we've got to find and that's why we were quite pleased to be included in this seasonal worker pilot for the Pacific and that would have overcome the shortage that we are expecting this year.

We will always as first preference recruit Australians, but because we are only talking about seasonal workers, so we're only offering them five months, to source suitable people from the Pacific Islands would be fantastic, in meeting our shortfall, because they're well equipped to come work here for five months to earn very good money and to go back home for the other seven months of each year.

In all, eight Pacific Island countries, plus East Timor, are eligible to take part in the Seasonal Worker Program.

Among them is Samoa, which is one of the biggest contributors to a similar program in New Zealand.

The Seasonal Workers' Unit in Apia has played down the concerns of the Australian canegrowers, saying they believe they can arrange to get workers over before July.

The unit's head, Fitu Fuimaono says he's planning to contact the canegrowers directly this week to discuss their options.

FUIMAONO: With the MOU that we signed, it is specifically under the pilot scheme at the moment, and for the coming 30th of June, the pilot scheme will be closed down and then it will be called the Seasonal Workers Scheme officially. So, we are willing to take some people earlier than July as per the MOU that we have signed for the pilot scheme.

HOFMAN: And how difficult will it be to send people over under the pilot scheme in March and then have them translate into the new scheme once it comes into play in July?

FUIMAONO: I didn't see any difficulty with it, except for the time of the contract, because of the time, the contract will be extended through the Seasonal Workers Scheme starting in July, so that means that it will allow us and Australian government to negotiate it again when that contract for the pilot scheme ends on the 30th June and so extend the contract to the seasonal workers. But negotiation can be done, and I am sure that the Australian government will understand where we are coming from in trying to bring some people earlier.

HOFMAN: And in terms of how this will create more jobs, you've talked about the Canegrowers' association, are there other industries which need you to have people ready before July?

FUIMAONO: At the moment no. We're still doing the negotiations.

HOFMAN: New Zealand every year takes about 5,000 seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands and the Australian scheme has really struggled to get off the ground in comparison. Are you happy with how things have been going with the government and how the system has been managed?

FUIMAONO: I think at the moment, there are a lot of areas that we are developing, making sure that the program will be sustained. With the systems that we have now in place with the New Zealand government, it is quite a good one. It's just a matter of how to manage and how to get all the workers from Samoa to be ready to take up any task assigned to.

HOFMAN: But in terms of how the Australian government is handling their scheme, are you satisfied with your dealings with them?

FUIMAONO: Yes. At the moment.

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