The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) have committed to examine ways to better assist smaller banana growers to access seasonal workers under the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) and Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP).
The process of employing small cohorts of workers under the program has proven particularly difficult for smaller operators, particularly to secure flights and find suitable quarantine arrangements once workers arrive.
Speaking after two DAF PLS/SWP information workshops held in Innisfail and Mareeba last month, Kerrod Beattie from DAF’s specialised PLS/SWP Assessment Team said the Department recognised that more needed to be done to assist smaller operators looking to recruit PLS/SWP staff.
“We really need to look at how we facilitate those smaller operators who are only looking for small numbers of workers, like five or ten,” Mr Beattie said.
“There has to be a way of getting a number of these growers together, which means collectively we’re looking at 150 or 160 (workers), which is something that is economically viable from a plane load perspective.
“This then makes the whole process easier to progress, from getting through an application,
to processing the application and organising quarantine. Because when you start looking at getting a quarantine arrangement in place, you can’t say, I only want to put five people in. Most of these systems are set up to accept 50-60 people.”
Mr Beattie, pictured below right, said the PLS/SWP Assessment Team had been aware of the issues faced by smaller operators in recruiting workers and the same message was delivered by growers at the November PLS/SWP workshops.
“It’s resonated quite strongly, certainly from yesterday’s group of growers (in Innisfail), but individual conversations that I’ve had today also in Mareeba, the same theme has come through,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s hard to find a solution, because there are various iterations on how it is working at the moment. But I don’t think we’ve found the best way of making it work, we need to work on that now. At least commence a conversation and talk with the growers.
Mr Beattie said the Assessment Team would work closely with the Approved Employers Association to contact smaller growers and find a solution to their future labour needs.
The ABGC’s workforce advocate Leanne Erakovic said smaller operators had been severely disadvantaged in the processes needed to
gain smaller cohorts, but she hoped with the appointment of DAF PLS/SWP cases workers some of these barriers would be overcome.
“I think the DAF Assessment Team is very committed to helping all growers – of all sizes – and I think they should be commended for that,” Ms Erakovic said.
“It’s been such a hard road for all growers to secure staff, but particularly for our smaller entities, and I really hope that recognition of this will bring about some tangible solutions as we continue to navigate labour needs into the new year.