Over one hundred fruit pickers from the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu will arrive in Darwin, Northern Territory on Tuesday to help ensure that Australia's mango harvest does not go to waste for the summer season.
Paul Burke, the Northern Territory Farmers Association chief executive, said the arrival of 162 fruit pickers was just in time for mango farmers who were facing a severe season farmworker shortage that would have resulted in economic difficulties for the growers.
"Without these workers, farmers would have been forced to let their fruit go to waste," he noted.
However, the Pacific fruit pickers will still have to complete a 14-day mandatory quarantine at an unused mining facility near Darwin before they move to the fruit plantations for work.
Normally nearly half of the Northern Territory's mango seasonal workforce come from the Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste, with many experienced workers returning each season to support the mango growers.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne announced the trial in August this year, saying Pacific workers were a critical support for agriculture industries around the country.
“Australia has been working closely with our Pacific family during the crisis, and this trial represents a small but significant step towards the broader resumption of entries under the Seasonal Worker Programme 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 the Pacific and Timor-Leste.
It will also provide additional opportunities for workers from the Pacific region to earn income and provide economic support for their home economies which are facing a sharp economic downturn due to the pandemic.
Alex Hawke, the minister for international development and the Pacific, said: “The Pacific is facing significant economic disruption due to COVID-19. This trial will provide a welcome boost in remittances to support the economic recovery of our region and will enable more workers to support their families and communities back home.”