Timor-Leste workers could be the answer to Australia's farm labour shortage
Since the COVID crisis began, Australia has struggled to find enough foreign workers to help harvest crops, with estimates the shortfall is as high as 25,000 workers.
Under the federal government's Seasonal Worker Program, low-skilled workers from Timor-Leste and nine Pacific countries can fill jobs in agriculture when there aren't enough Australians to meet seasonal demand, reports www.abc.net.au
Another main objective is to help the economic development of the participating countries.
Unskilled when they arrived five years ago, Mossmont Nurseries' Timorese workers are now highly skilled.
"They have the ability to virtually run this company without needing steady supervision from myself. The Seasonal Worker Program is a brilliant program and I hope it increases forever on," said Johnathon Moss.
The stone fruit, citrus and almond nursery will need up to 60 extra workers in spring.
Given the acute shortage of farm labour, Mr Moss does not know where he'll get them, but International Mobility Services, an Australian-owned labour company based in Dili, says it can supply them all.
"We have over a thousand candidates that have been pre-screened, initial training done, English language testing done, they are ready to go," IMS chief executive Marcia Kelly said.
"It makes a perfect match, we've got the candidates and the farmers are desperate for workers." Seventy per cent of the men and women vetted by IMS have had their first COVID-19 vaccination. Only those who are double vaccinated and have tested negative for COVID-19 will be proposed for jobs in Australia.
Ms Kelly has asked officials what else it needs to do for workers to be cleared to work in Australia, including quarantining in Timor-Leste or on-farm in Australia, but claimed no suggestions have been forthcoming.
Ms Kelly said the lack of useful feedback from Australian government departments was frustrating.
"If we are provided with exactly what's required to mitigate the risk to an acceptable level, we will do it in order to get the employees in or the candidates and employees in," she said.
"It's fantastic they're talking about new quarantine facilities being built, but that doesn't help right now when farmers are desperate for workers right now. We need quick decisions and quick solutions."