Australian Government to Remove Cap on Seasonal Worker Program for Pacific Island Countries

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There will no longer be a limit to the number of workers from Pacific Island Countries participating in the Australian Seasonal Worker Program.

The Australian Government announced the changes in a Commonwealth White Paper on plans to develop northern Australia.  The Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) helps Australian businesses to employ workers from participating Pacific Island Countries (PICs) when they cannot find enough local labour to satisfy seasonal demand. The Australian Government will expand the SWP to better address seasonal labour shortages in the north.

The White Paper goes on to recommend that, subject to the conclusion of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus regional trade agreement, the Australian Government will invite additional Pacific Island Forum (PIF) countries to participate in the SWP, potentially adding the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the program.

New Zealand Labour Mobility

Seasonal workers from Epi island, Vanuatu, harvesting apples

 

The White Paper also proposes the expansion of the SWP to cover the broader agriculture industry and the accommodation sector on an ongoing basis, and invites northern Australia’s tourism industry to suggest proposals to trial the SWP in tourism sectors other than accommodation.

In recognition of the challenges faced by microstates, the White Paper proposes the establishment of a special multi-year visa to 250 citizens from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu to work in lower skilled occupations in selected industries in Northern Australia.

PACER Plus negotiations were launched by Pacific Leaders in August 2009 in Cairns, Australia, and will result in a trade and development agreement that will inject dynamism into the economies of the PICs and enable them to derive significant benefits from international trade.  The negotiations cover a broad range of issues, including regional labour mobility, development and economic cooperation, trade in goods, trade in services and investment.

Regional labour mobility is one of the key issues in the PACER Plus negotiations and the Chief Trade Advisor for the PICs, Dr Edwini Kessie, says he is buoyed by the unveiling of the White Papers which responds positively to the key negotiating demands of the PICs.

“The announcement by the Australian Government is significant as it underscores the importance of increased labour mobility in the Pacific.   The greater access to the Australian labour market by workers from Pacific Island Countries will lead to increased remittances and the upgrading of skills of the  workers who, upon their return, can establish businesses which will generate jobs and contribute to the long-term economic growth and sustainable development of their countries,” Dr Kessie said.

The Parties intend to conclude the PACER Plus negotiations by September 2016.