After weeks of preparation 144 workers flew out to Australia on Monday 22 March to start their new 9-month contracts working on farms across rural Victoria and Tasmania. The workers are a mix of those who have been on the program before and those just recruited now for the first time.
This is the second group of workers to leave Solomon Islands since the labour mobility restart in November last year. There are currently 525 workers in Australia with demand growing significantly now that COVID-19 risk management initiatives are in place. Another 184 workers will leave Honiara for New South Wales in April.
All seasonal workers go through the Solomon Islands Government recruitment process including fitness testing, interviews conducted in English, Medical checks and Police clearance.
Stella Karu is a team leader of the group who will be working on Sunny ridge Farm in Eastern Victoria. The Sunnyridge team will be picking strawberries east of Melbourne. Other teams will go to Mildura and Gippsland in Victoria and Riana in Tasmania.
“I am very happy to be going to Australia and I am really happy to be the leader of a Solomon Islands work team,” Ms. Karu said.
Stella will lead around 10 workers through their time in Australia, supporting them to engage with their host farm employer and monitor everyone’s health and wellbeing.
“My family have been planning this together. I can go and earn good money to complete our permanent house. I am a single mother with two kids. I am sad to leave them but really encouraged because this is about our future.” Stella said.
All the workers attended a mandatory two-day Pre-Departure Briefing and training program last week at the St. Banarbas Cathedral LeafHaus. The briefings include key information on worker contract & agreements, country information, health management, ambassadorial responsibilities and other important issues.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & External Trade, Mr Collin Beck, was a keynote speaker at the briefing. PS Beck said that the Seasonal Work Program is aimed at creating employment opportunities and generating income for unemployed people, building people to people links and opportunities to develop new and innovative business opportunities between the two countries.
He strongly reiterated the Zero Tolerance on Alcohol consumption, the consequences of Absconding and the importance of Labour Mobility Unit’s Here To Work values.
“I strongly advise all workers to refrain from consuming alcohol and encourage you all to be good ambassadors of your country. Please be reminded that you are there to work whilst at the same time you are also promoting Solomon Islands under the Here To Work brand. Make good use of this opportunity to earn and save money and help your families when you return home”.
PS Beck also stated that absconding is not an option available to workers and there are significant negative impacts from such actions.
“Let me also remind you that if you have any intentions of leaving your designated place of work to work in another location then you will be breaching your visa conditions and you will be working illegally in Australia.
“The Ministry through the LMU does not tolerate absconders and those who have absconded or overstayed and are working illegally in Australia will be permanently blacklisted from the labour mobility programs”.
The Australian High Commission also attended the Pre-departure briefing and is pleased to be helping Solomon Island workers through its bilateral arrangements under the Labour mobility program. A representative from their office spoke briefly to encourage workers to use this opportunity wisely to earn money and achieve their family goals.
The workers travelled on a chartered Solomon Airlines flight transiting through Brisbane International Airport for customs and bio-security checks before continuing on to Hobart. Upon arrival at Hobart the workers were led to their hotels where they will be quarantined for the next 14 days before going to their respective farms.
The labour mobility program has benefited many families over the past years. Both SIG and the Australian government are committed to continuously support this program in the future.
Solomon Islands labour mobility is managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade through the Labour Mobility Unit.