Over a hundred and sixty Ni Vanuatu seasonal workers have arrived in Australia to work on a trial program picking mangos on farms across Australia’s Northern Territory.
They are the first Ni Vanuatu seasonal workers to return to Australia since COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed in late March.
The trial program was announced by Australian and Vanuatu officials in early August.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs, Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, says the quality leadership and workmanship that Vanuatu workers have shown overseas has impressed many farmers in Australia.
He says the pilot project will bring benefits to both countries.
Vanuatu’s Commissioner of Labour, Murielle Metsan Meltenoven, says the pilot program is important at this time, when Vanuatu is facing job losses and the challenging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
“To support us in this situation, the Australian Government has opened up this program for Ni-Vanuatu,” Mrs Meltenoven said.
“I want to assure workers and their families, that the Government has not forced workers to join this program, they have joined of their own free will.
“But we have, with help from our development partners, created this opportunity for them to take up.”
Joseph Malieke, one of the seasonal workers who will participate in the program, has previously worked in Australia for six years.
“With many of us seasonal workers having no jobs at the moment, this program will really help our families,” he told VBTC.
He says he trusts the team he will be working with and that they will work and serve as Vanuatu ambassadors in different farms in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Annie Kintor, another worker on the pilot program, says she is relieved that Vanuatu remains a COVID-free nation and that she has had some concerns about travelling to Australia.
But, she says the group has been fully briefed about Australia’s COVID situation and now feels more comfortable as they better understand what is happening there.
The Northern Territory has no active cases of COVID-19 and has border restrictions in place to protect the territory from areas of Australia which do have COVID.
The Labour Commissioner Meltenoven says the seasonal workers who have gone to Australia, must comply with an agreement signed with by both Governments that sets down what will happen if they get the virus.
Even though Vanuatu is COVID-free, the workers will have to go through strict travelling arrangements and undertake arrival-in-Australia quarantine of 14 days.
The Australian High Commission in Vanuatu and the Vanuatu Government held a ceremony to farewell the workers in Port Vila.