Pacific workers fear new Australian visa threatens jobs with influx of Asian visa holders

    Are Pacific Islanders working in Australia in danger of losing their jobs to Asian workers?

    Photo/Bridge Walker

    That’s the question that is troubling Islanders working under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme as more details emerge of the new Australian Agriculture visa.

    President of the Pacific Islands Council of Queensland, Ema Vueti,  has already raised questions about what action needs to be taken in response to the news.

    Some Pacific Islanders are concerned that Australia is planning to shift its interests in employing Pacific Islanders in their farms to Asian workers.

    They told Kaniva News one of the reasons for the shift was because Asian workers were reluctant to complain if they encountered problems in the workplace. In contrast, Pacific islanders complained if  they came across any problems.

    According to a report by Stephen Howes, Director of the Development Policy Centre and a Professor of Economics at the Crawford School at the Australian National University in Canberra, the new Australian Agriculture visa will compete the PALM scheme.

    “If the new visa is recruiting workers to do the same jobs as PALM workers from the Pacific, under the same terms and conditions, and there is no shortage of workers from the Pacific, why are we introducing a new visa for Asian workers, thereby undermining the Pacific Step-up?” Profesor Howes asked.

    He also warned that Pacific workers faced direct competition from Indonesia, which was entitled to send  4264 backpackers to Australia every year under a Work and Holiday visa that allowed the holder to work in Australia for up to three years. No Pacific country has a backpacker visa.

    Professor Howes said the Pacific might ask why Indonesia should also be able to compete with Pacific workers.

    He said figures released  by the Australian government suggested between 8000 and 16,000 Asian workers could be admitted by 2023-24.

    “The Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) has been going since 2007. It took a decade for it to reach 8000 visas. With the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), the combined PALM has now reached 20,000 but 8000 to 16,000 spots going to Asia is going to make a big difference to the PALM latecomers, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands,” Professor Howes said.

    “They may well continue to be crowded out from meaningful participation in the PALM scheme.”

    “The government’s latest fact sheet says that there are 55,000 Pacific islanders ready to come to Australia under the PALM visa. Why then are we sourcing 8-16,000 from Asia?”

    He said it was clear that Australia was negotiating with Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Cambodia.

    Indonesia could not afford to antagonise the Pacific. Much of the Pacific, in particular Papua New Guinea and other Melanesian countries, regarded West Papua as occupied territory.

    “While Indonesia has a massive population, and will no doubt be grateful for any job-creation opportunities that come its way, it will also have to ask whether a couple of thousand visas are worth risking a diplomatic dispute with the Pacific,” he said.

    Pacific concerns

    The Australian Agriculture visa was originally expected to be announced in 2018.

    The ABC reported at the time that Pacific Island officials and leaders were aghast at the prospect of a new agriculture visa.

    They feared that Pacific worker programmes would be ultimately destroyed  if Australia welcomed thousands more workers from far more populous nations.

    They were angry that the Australian Government was apparently on the brink of making an announcement on a new visa without bothering to consult them.

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