Farmers eager to extend program
THE original group of 24 Tongan workers who arrived at Emerald's 2PH Farms through the trial Pacific Islander Worker's Program finished their successful stint in Australia last month.
In a survey completed before the workers left Queensland for their small Pacific homeland, all 24 indicated they would jump at the opportunity to return.
2PH owner Craig Pressler would take them back in a heartbeat and as he said, "we are buggered without this program".
Mr Pressler's biggest fear is that the hugely successful program, providing a workforce for farms struggling to find labour, would be dropped come the end of the trial period in June 2012.
"This is essential to the industry's survival," Mr Pressler said.
"All we need is the opportunity to get at these guys, we can train them and look after them, just like any other employer would be expected to do. We need them, it's as simple as that."
Mr Pressler currently has 56 Tongans, as well as Australians and other nationalities, working on 2PH citrus farms. The current 56 will head home in December. Another 48 will arrive in January.
Mr Pressler said the continuation of the program was vital if the industry was to compete with overseas markets.
"We have had a fantastic season in the export market this year, but that's because we had the strong, reliable workforce we need to compete with other countries," Mr Pressler said.
"There was certainty, we knew how many would be working the next day so we could budget and work our business around that."
Mr Pressler, along with many other Australian farmers, will be hoping for an extension to the program.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced an expansion to allow workers from Nauru, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu to be accepted, but failed to extend the trial period.