STAFF REPORTER | Warwick Daily News (Queensland)
WARWICK - THE prospect of being able to hire a reliable seasonal workforce drew strong crowds to a seasonal worker program information session at Applethorpe.
International delegates from Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Fiji and Papua New Guinea plugged the value of their workers to growers and other stakeholders from Stanthorpe and beyond.
Growers heard testimonials from Thulimbah apple growers and Darling Downs vegetable growers about their experiences of hiring workers from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa.
The common thread was reliability, strong work ethic and a genuine desire to work - qualities all growers seek in their staff.
The international delegates represented four of the 10 participating countries in the federal government-funded seasonal worker program.
In 2016-17, Australian employers hired 477 workers from Timor-Leste, 190 from Fiji, 139 from Papua New Guinea and 87 from Solomon Islands compared with 2,690 from Tonga and 2,150 from Vanuatu.
Growers were informed of opportunities to diversify recruitment sources across the countries, reducing the impact on the main sending countries.
The aim was also to ensure growers knew there were other options when some Pacific Island countries were hit by cyclones and could not send workers.
Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network project manager and southern Queensland officer Karen George said interest was strong.
"Securing a reliable and returning workforce can be a significant challenge for growers, and having more labour supply choices gives growers a greater ability to ensure their long-term viability,” she said.
"The strong turnout and solid engagement at this information session shows growers are hungry to learn more about how the seasonal worker program can help their business.”
Solomon Islands director of trade George Tuti told growers his country was in a solid position to help.
"By Pacific standards, we've got a large population so we are more than happy to supply a good number of workers where there are shortages in the agriculture sector,” Mr Tuti told participants.
"Subsistence farming is just a way of life so our workers have useful experience for working on Queensland farms.”