16 June 2017
From the High Commissioner’s Desk
A choice crop of workers
It’s been a big year for the Seasonal Worker Programme. Over 85 Solomon Islanders have travelled to Australia for work in the last 12 months – this is the highest participation since our involvement began in 2012.
In April, I got the chance to visit a farm that employs Solomon Island workers. Gracekate Farms, in Queensland’s Darling Downs region, started its involvement in the Seasonal Worker Programme five years ago.
Gracekate Farm currently employs nine Solomon Islanders. The group works alongside a small local workforce to pick silverbeet to supply some of Australia’s biggest supermarkets.
During my visit, I spoke with some of the Solomon Island workers. They told me about the work they do and their plans for when they return home.
I also talked with the farm owners, Australian couple Kerry and Simon McCarthy. The McCarthys talked proudly about their Solomon Islands workforce.
“Our boys come from an isolated jungle village in the Solomon Islands where there is no road access”.
“They arrive motivated and ready to work for the season. They show commitment and take responsibility for doing a good job”.
The couple also talked about visiting Solomon Islands and how it helped them understand the flow on benefits to the broader community.
But the bottom line is the McCarthy’s are involved in the program because it makes good business sense and is enabling them to expand their business.
Although Gracekate employs a small cohort of workers, I think it’s a critical part of growing Solomon Islands reputation as a source of reliable hard working labour.
Another company that is employing Solomon Island workers is Seven Fields, which runs eight farms across Australia.
Last year, Seven Fields employed 28 Solomon Islanders to pick mangoes in Katherine in the Northern Territory. The group have now returned to their villages. Most have built new homes for their families and one has saved enough to buy a van.
Recently, 40 workers headed to Australia to pick citrus fruit at the Seven Fields farm near Mildura in Victoria. Prior to heading to Australia, the group undertook pre-departure briefing on visa, employment and cultural matters.
During the briefing workers spoke about why they wanted to travel to Australia to work. Many talked of wanting to build a better home for their families and most were nervous about Mildura’s cold climate.
The workers are now settling into Mildura. Seven Fields is keen to make sure the workers are well looked after and have given everyone Seven Fields beanies and jumpers.
A member of the group commented “all the workers are happy with the facilities” and “are getting used to the cold weather”.
Beware of Scams
I was sad to learn some Solomon Islanders were recently approached by people falsely claiming to be SWP agents. I want to echo advice from the Labour Mobility Unit (LMU) within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and External Trade’s (MFAET) – no one should pay money to individuals promising them work as part of the SWP scheme.
I similarly encourage anyone who is approach by someone claiming to be an agent to contact the LMU immediately and report the bogus agent.
From my perspective, the Seasonal Worker Programme is overwhelmingly win-win for both Australia and Solomon Islands.
The Australian High Commission is proud to be working with the LMU and others to ensure Solomon Islands can supply high quality labour to Australian farms.
Australian farmers I have met say the program gives them the confidence to grow their business and ensure they meet the demands of their customers.
For Solomon Island workers, many return home with funds that can transform their families and the broader community.