New worker scheme to benefit all

Stuart McGuckin and Jacinta CantatoreHarvey-Waroona Reporter

A program designed to provide WA horticulture businesses with seasonal workers from Timor-Leste is set to benefit South West growers.

Up to 12 businesses will take part in a pilot of the Pacific Labour Scheme project announced by Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan last week.

It will see the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development join with vegetablesWA to match workers from Pacific Island labour programs with horticulture businesses.

Patane Produce owner Pennie Patane believes the scheme could benefit producers and employees.

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Ms Patane applied for the Federal government’s PL Scheme, which began in July last year and recruits workers from countries such as Fiji, Tonga and Timor-Leste.

She believes the scheme could benefit the horticulture industry in particular by filling labour shortages with medium-term employees.

“Our gaps aren’t seasonal, they’re full-time,” Ms Patane said. “If we can have the same people for three years it gives us stability.”

Ms Patane said having medium-term positions would increase job security for employees. Employers would also spend less time training a revolving door backpacker workforce who work for an employer the required minimum of 88 days to extend their working-holiday visa.

Ms MacTiernan said securing a reliable workforce was vital as WA’s horticulture industry grew.

VegetablesWA chief executive John Shannon said “dozens” of growers in the South West could benefit from the pilot program.

“Difficulties obtaining and training seasonal labour is an industry-wide issue with the data and information gathered during the trial expected to assist vegetable growers plan for the future.”

He said vegetablesWA would identify six to 12 businesses willing to take part in the trial while assessing their labour needs, constraints and opportunities.

“We are still working out how the application process will work but would love to hear from any farmers in the south west who might be interested in taking part.”

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