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Concerns with the Pacific Labour Scheme

There is concern about the existing Pacific Labour Scheme that assists Australian agriculture with finding suitable overseas national workers, in this case from the Pacific. Most recently, the Australian Government is in negotiations with other countries in Southeast Asia to open another visa stream to support Australia's agricultural sector.


Agricultural workers have been entering Australia from the Pacific Island nations such as Vanuatu and Timor for some time. The Pacific Labour Scheme has been the primary visa pathway in place for overseas agricultural workers to travel to and reside in Australia temporarily in order to meet workplace shortages in the farm sector, especially during harvest seasons.


More than 15,000 Pacific and Timorese workers are in Australia at present and the Government is hoping thatnumber will grow by early next year. There are 55,000 pre-screened Pacific workers ready to travel to Australia.


This first phase of the program is open to employers already accredited through the Pacific Labour Scheme, the second phase is for the program to be extended to overseas farm workers from more countries.


However, the visa restrictions on workers in some circumstances have been a yoke around the neck of visa holders with workers only able to work for one employer according to their visa conditions. The past experience shows instances where the visa restrictions tied farm workers to unacceptable employers, who have taken advantage of them. Australian employers under the Pacific Scheme are obliged to provide accommodation, however, some employer have charged significant amount of money for very basic accommodation provided. The Australian Government is constantly monitoring employers and seeking ways to maintain and improve the integrity of the program. Yet, the program has been a source of controversy.


This program is far different from the backpacker scenario of people coming to Australia on the Working Holiday programs. Because the backpackers are free to leave and find another employer if conditions are unfavourable. The Pacific workers must remain with the employer who nominated them or go back home. In fact, the Australian Government has an ongoing campaign warning Pacific Scheme visa holders not to leave their employer and the dire consequences of leaving.


The Fair Work Commission has recently decided to guarantee farm workers a minimum wage which is a good step forward to improving the conditions for these overseas nationals. There are other regional initiatives to assist regional employers to better understand their responsibilities as participants in various visa programs and ensure they offer terms and conditions of employment which are comparable to those that would otherwise be offered to Australians.


Contact Assent Migration Lawyers for further information about your rights and obligations as a participant in the Agricultural workers programs.


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