Following strong demand for seasonal workers in Australia, the Government there announced this week that it will bring in 170 Ni-Vanuatu workers to pick mangoes in the Northern Territory.
Vanuatu’s Commissioner of Labour said these workers will need to follow strict COVID-19 protocols which will be organised by the Australian and Vanuatu governments.
“Even though they’ll be travelling from a COVID-free country, they will still have to go through strict travelling and arrival-in-Australia quarantine of 14 days,” says Commissioner Murielle Metsan Meltenoven.
She says the work opportunity in Australia is a “golden opportunity” for Vanuatu.
In a joint press statement, Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Development said bringing in the Ni-Vanuatu is a trial or first step in restarting the entry of workers under Australia’s Pacific labour mobility programs, since COVID-19 travel restrictions forced the schemes to go on hold.
Workers in Vanuatu will be the first to participate in the trial – a decision the Australian Government says is based on health considerations and industry demand.
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne, said Pacific and Timorese workers have played a critical role in supporting industries across Australia, particularly the agriculture industry.
“Australia has been working closely with our Pacific family during the [COVID] crisis, and this trial represents a small but significant step towards the broader resumption of entries under the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme,” she said.
“Any further steps will be considered carefully and will prioritise the health of communities here in Australia, as well as in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.”
The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Alex Hawke, said these would be the first Pacific workers to enter Australia since 20 March 2020.
In an interview with a member of the Vanuatu Parliament, John Salong, the MP said the harvest season remains an important part of the agriculture sector in both Australia and New Zealand, because it’s when farmers are able to earn back the money they have spent in the previous months of operation.
“But the health and safety of the people travelling should be paramount,” John Salong said.
Commissioner Metsan says the Australian mango farmers who employ the Ni-Vanuatu, will pay for the workers’ safety and quarantining in Australia and their negotiated terms and conditions.