Piñata Farms is among Australia’s approved agricultural industry employers recruiting workers from the Pacific Islands under the Federal Government’s Seasonal Worker Program (SWP).
North Queensland operations manager Stephen Scurr said eight workers from Vanuatu were currently harvesting pineapples at the company’s Mareeba farm, double last year’s intake.
He said they had decided to recruit workers from Vanuatu, which was one of nine participating Pacific Island countries, as Piñata Farms managed a sandalwood and lime plantation there.
Under the SWP the Pacific Island employees are permitted to work in Australia for six months at a time and to return for consecutive seasons after a six-month break.
“We have a few loyal returning Australian workers, but generally Australians are unwilling to do manual farm work,” Mr Scurr said.
“We were also finding it harder to get backpackers, they’re only here for two or three weeks then they go, whereas the Pacific Island workers are with us for six months.
“They’re a great bunch of people and are a pleasure to work with.
“Whether you have to do five hours or 12 hours a day they’re always keen to work.”
Mr Scurr said the biggest benefit of joining the program was not having to constantly train new staff.
“We think it’s worthwhile (to be part of the SWP) especially because they come back and there’s no need for us to source and train a new workforce each year,” he said.
“We are able to access workers who are happy to be here and the wages they earn in six months are equivalent to what they’d earn in three or four years at home.
“It’s a life changing experience for a lot of them because unlike backpackers who are here on holidays, they come to raise money to send home to their families and they get to do things like build a house.
“In one instance it’s helped put concrete floors in the house for one for them.”
Mr Scurr said Piñata Farms became involved in the SWP after his brother, managing director Gavin, saw first-hand the scale of devastation caused by Cyclone Pam when it struck Vanuatu in early 2016.
“We thought the best we could do to help the region rebuild was to provide work at our farms,” he said.
“We now employ a labour provider to source and provide staff and manage their clearance to work here.”
Mr Scurr said despite the program’s overwhelming success, an ongoing challenge was providing suitable short-term accommodation for all of the workers.