COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the value of Australia’s Seasonal Workers Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS). To ensure both are sustainable, efficient and continue to benefit the workers, employers and participating countries during and beyond the pandemic, a public consultation was opened in Canberra, late last month to receive views from Solomon Islands and other stakeholders.
In its submission, Solomon Islands thanked Australia for the two programmes it highly values and both countries must ensure the two schemes continue to deliver so that Solomon Islands, Australia, the workers and industries are all winners.
Under the current arrangements only those between the ages of 21 – 45 can apply but through its Canberra-based High Commissioner to Australia, Mr. Robert Sisilo, Solomon Islands wants to increase the age range eligibility from 21 – 55.
“There should be a review on the eligibility age for workers to range from 21 to 55, particularly in the PLS programme where most of our workers with the right skills and experience are above 45 years old. It would also be good for employers who would like to retain more mature and experienced workers. They can easily become supervisors and managers which are well-paid jobs,” Mr. Sisilo explained.
Also, under the current arrangements only employers from regional and rural areas in Australia can recruit SWP and PLS workers. But most of the skill and semi-skill jobs are only available in urban and metropolitan areas. And the demand is very high in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra etc.
‘It’s time to include urban Australia and particularly the cities where the demand for workers in the hospitality, tourism, aged care, housekeeping, welding, bricklaying, tiling, tinting, panel beating, vehicle mechanic, fitting, machining, plumbing, construction, fishing sectors etc is huge,” Commissioner Sisilo urged.
“Many of our Australia Pacific Training Coalition (APTC) graduates are without jobs. About half do not have an employer to return to after their studies. Brain drain? Not really an issue with so many APTC graduates struggling to find work,” he added.
Australia’s Pacific labour mobility initiatives play a crucial role in addressing workforce shortages across a range of sectors in regional Australia. The SWP and PLS can only be accessed after conducting mandatory local labour market testing. Both programs foster links between people, businesses and communities, creating deeper connections between Australia and the Pacific.
Solomon Islands is now one of the top 3 Pacific Island countries, after Vanuatu and Tonga, on the number of workers, now almost 1,500 arriving in Australia since the restart of the SWP and PLS last September. It should hit at least 2,000 by the end of the year.