Seasonal work in Australia pay off for ni-Vanuatu workers | Pacific Beat

Seasonal work in Australia pay off for ni-Vanuatu workers

Seasonal work in Australia pay off for ni-Vanuatu workers

Updated 15 February 2012, 12:25 AEDT

The first workers arriving back in Vanuatu after spending six month working on Australian farms are reporting a positive experience.

The four workers, who have just returned home, were granted visas for Australia under the Pacific Seasonal Worker Scheme.

While the scheme is gaining popularity in Tonga, only 18 people from Vanuatu successfully applied for visas this season.

Port Villa based employment agent John Salong says he's hoping that now changes.

Presenter: Cameron Wilson

Speaker: John Salong from Melanesian Seasonal Employers in Vanuatu

SALONG: They had a very, very good experience, they're productivity was really high, so high that their farmer wants them to go back in October and as field supervisors instead of field hands, so that's a very good indication of what their performance was like on the farm. In terms of relations in the community, they have equipped themselves very well. They were part of church groups over there, they formed a singing group and apparently visited quite a few churches to sing on Sunday, which drove few people into the churches and they were very well cared for in terms of pastoral care and also in terms of support and accommodation, transportation and they came back with a really overall experience.

WILSON: Are they happy with the money they earned?

SALONG: The money they earned and brought back to Vanuatu was probably close to double what they're earnings have been in New Zealand and the average earning in New Zealand is about 500-thousand vatu after six months. I guess around five or six thousand Australian dollars.

WILSON: Why did they earn so much more in Australia than in New Zealand?

SALONG: Partly because the minimum wage in Australia is a bit higher, the exchange rate also worked in their favour and they had a lot of work to do and some of their work was piece rate and some of their work was hourly work, so when they were doing piece rate their performance was really high.

WILSON: And by piece rate, you mean their paid according to what they pick, rather than how long it takes to pick?


WILSON: Can you compare in other ways the differences you've seen with the scheme in Australia compared to New Zealand?

SALONG: Only that it's more difficult to get workers into Australia, because we're still in pilot stage, while New Zealand is already mainstreamed and is part of the norm. So if pilot finishes up in June next year and the reports are good and its mainstream, they should be similar. The only difference will be in terms of how much more money they can bring back to Vanuatu from Australia.

WILSON: What sort of difference will that make to the workers standard of living once they return to Vanuatu?

SALONG: All the workers who go to New Zealand and now that we're having some coming back from Australia basically have a substantive increase in terms of their standard of living in that they build better houses, they able to increase themselves water supply systems where they're not part of the main, because most people are coming from the village somewhere and they able to put up solar lighting instead of kerosene lighting, their children education is able to be afforded and some of their social obligations like weddings and circumcision ceremonies, all of those things that are part of the culture in Vanuatu are more easily serviced.

WILSON: Do you think there are many people who are in Vanuatu who will be closely watching the experience of these first workers to see if they will be interested in also coming to Australia?

SALONG: I can tell you that I've been inundated with phone calls and it's very difficult to keep telling them that it's still a pilot, they're still watching and it's dependent on the performance on the men still remaining in Australia and we're hoping that all in all, the crew that I'm sending will be able to come out with the records that before are presented.

WILSON: Why is it at this stage that there are so many Tongans that come to Australia to work under this scheme, but no so many people from Vanuatu?

SALONG: It's a different proposition for obviously Vanuatu doesn't have a lot of strong linkages at the moment and that's exactly what we're trying to build out of high standard of performance and in trying to do the higher profile, in terms of productivity than other Pacific Islanders and as you would know, there's been 2,500 visas that have been allocated under this Pacific Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme and so far, we hope that these islands, I mean of the four countries which are Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga, we've only used 500 visas which leaves 2,000 and the Tongans have a longer history in terms of Tongans having migrated to Australia and have good linkages with the community and have good linkages with business and in Vanuatu, we cannot say the same, so we're trying to build our relationship now.

WILSON: The workers that have returned to Vanuatu now, do you know if they're intending to come back to Australia if they have the opportunity to do more work?

SALONG: Yeah, absolutely, we're hoping that they will go back in October. They are supposed to be back here for five months. Their idea is for going for seven months and be away for five months and as far as I understand inquiries are already being made to officials to see if the four can be returned for the season starting in October.


Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.