Program is win-win for growers and workers
CENTRAL Highlands horticulturalists are celebrating following the Federal Government announcement of a permanent Pacific Seasonal Worker Program from July 1, once the current pilot scheme ends.
Growers, businesses and politicians from both sides of the bench have been pushing for the government to extend its trial in recent months, which allows growers struggling to find local workers - a growing trend in Australian agriculture - to import labour from certain Pacific nations for seasonal work.
Craig Pressler of Emerald's 2PH Farms is one grower to make use of the pilot scheme, and has been a big advocate of the need to make it a permanent fixture since he saw the positive effect it had on both his business and workers.
"It's a great result for everyone who pushed for it and for the Pacific seasonal workers themselves," Mr Pressler said.
"I've got 39 exit interviews sitting on my desk right now - all 39 said they want to come back."
"The program has exceeded not only our expectations but the workers' expectations too, it's a great result for their family, their community and their country."
Mel Penson and Walter Fangatua run Plantgrowpick, an Emerald-based company that provided up to 120 seasonal workers to growers across Australia, with at least 48 coming through the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme.
The couple, who has three young children and who also employ Walter's mother, Koloa, said the program was the backbone of the family business.
"Our business tripled since the start of the pilot," Mel said.
"This means everything to us, it means our business can keep going and we can keep doing our job properly."
Seasonal worker Sipiliano Tupola will head back to Tonga in January after a four-month stint on an Emerald grape farm.
He said he was grateful for the opportunity to come and work in Australia and would like nothing more than to come back.
"(Because of this program) I can help my family back home… for us it is very good, it's very important," Mr Tupola said.