GOVERNMENT has announced counter measures to deal with the increasing number of reported runaway labourers under the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme in Australia.

The recruitment process of seasonal workers is to be selected through the community and finalized by town and district officers. Cabinet also approved for electorate MPs to decide on those selected.

Government has also negotiated with employers for seasonal workers to get $250 a week for their daily needs and for remittances to Tonga. The rest of their pay will be deposited into a separate bank account where it could be withdrawn when workers return to Tonga.

This is due largely to reports that over 300 local seasonal workers ran away from horticulture farms in Australia.

Government finds the situation alarming and efforts have been made in fear Australia would consider recruit labourer’s from our neighboring Pacific Islands.

The Minister of Internal Affairs (MIA) Hon. Fe’ao Vakata reported this in Parliament yesterday.

Vakata has returned to Tonga after holding talks with Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Employment Division in efforts to address the problem.

He said it was with the intention to let Australia know Tonga is seeking solutions to retain its share in the market.

“We are hoping those that runaway workers will not spoil the chances of our locals getting to be employed under the scheme,” said Hon. Vakata.

He said although Tongans are top on the list of employees from the Pacific in their performance, it now poses a threat that Australia and New Zealand might seek employment opportunities from Samoa and Fiji.

Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme was initiated in 2008 to alleviate the labour shortage in the country’s horticulture industry. This is through providing opportunities for workers from participating countries including Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Vanuatu to undertake seasonal work.
Workers were recruited by labour hire companies who had been selected by the Australian Government to recruit and supply workers to farmers and growers. Farmers and growers then negotiate with the labour hire company to get the workers they need.

Two options in the selection process of locals. The first option involves selection of workers from the villages and must be finalized by town and district officers as well as the electorate MPs.

The recruitment process offers two options for the seasonal worker scheme for Australia or New Zealand. One option allows the Ministry to recruit seasonal workers from the community through the town and District Officers. An employer in Australia or New Zealand or would also apply to their governments for a permission to bring into the country seasonal workers from Tonga.

There is a second option whereby employers or contracted agencies in Australia or New Zealand or would apply for permission to bring in seasonal workers from Tonga.

Once that was approved they would come to Tonga and recruit their workers.

The majority of the runaway labourers are those selected by contractor agencies. Hence, Government opted to change its approach and stick to option one of the recruitment process to ensure the continuity of the seasonal work scheme.

Hon. Vakata said contracted agencies can recruit workers from the community but town and the district officers will finalise it. This is to ensure good, reliable and trustworthy workers are recruited and are expected to return to Tonga.

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