Australia's new labour scheme for Pacific Islanders gets underway


Talimanatu Uilese is now earning 10 times his usual wage, but he's a long way from home.

As the Morrison government tries to prove it is stepping up its role in the Pacific, 80 Pacific Islanders have spent their first months working in regional parts of Australia under a new labour program.

Talimanatu Uilese is among the new arrivals and is working as a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat in coastal New South Wales.

He arrived in Australia in August from the small Pacific island nation of Tuvalu and has already been surprised by the different fishing methods used in his home country compared to those in Australia.

“They use live bait and calamari for catching tuna, but in Tuvalu we make our own bait,” Mr Uilese told SBS News.

Talimanatu Uilese and Teuhie Timo.
Talimanatu Uilese.
SBS News

Under the new Pacific Labour Scheme, he is able to stay in Australia for up to three years.

“We see this as very much a win-win,” Assistant Minister for the Pacific, Anne Ruston, told SBS News.

“Obviously we are getting a great source of fantastic labour… but equally, we can be training these workers when they come to Australia so that when they return home to their countries they have got the kinds of skills that are going to assist in capacity building in their own country.”

Talimanatu Uilese
Mr Uilese is working as a deckhand in Australia.
SBS News

Mr Uilese is earning 10 times more than his usual wage back home and told SBS News he plans to build a house when he eventually returns.

He has left his wife and four children in Tuvalu. His youngest is just ten months old.

“The main reason why I am here is for my children's future,” he said.

“It is very hard for me but on the other side, it is better for me to earn money than stay back home without doing anything.”

A total of 2,000 Pacific Islanders are expected to arrive in Australia by mid next year but numbers will be capped annually after that, depending on demand.

The aim is to strengthen relations with some of Australia’s closest neighbours and boost workforce numbers in the primary industries that need it.

2,000 Pacific Islanders are expected to arrive in Australia.
SBS News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a foreign policy reset on the Pacific in Townsville on Thursday, saying: “Australia is committed to building on labour mobility opportunities for Pacific countries to Australia and ensuring that Pacific countries take priority.”

The access to extra staff is vital for local industries including Steve Basile’s third-generation fishing business in the NSW town of Ulladulla.

Half of his staff members are foreign workers and without them, he told SBS News his business would fold.

“We would not have a business. The boats would be tied up to the wharf or sold and we would be doing something else,” he said.

Tuna Australia CEO David Ellis said fishing and tourism were traditional Pacific industries.

“What this scheme does is allow them to get the skills in using the commercial equipment and be able to take that back,” Mr Ellis said.

Teuhie Timo
Teuhie Timo is from Tuvalu.
SBS News

That is the plan for Teuhie Timo, who is already looking forward to his eventual return to Tuvalu after his time working as a deckhand in Australia.

“My plan A is I've got to build my house if I try to save money, and plan B, I want to run a small business back at home,” he told SBS News.

The Pacific Labour Scheme was first announced at the Pacific Islands Forum in Samoa last year by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The labour scheme will run alongside an existing program that brings in farm workers from the region with around 8,500 arriving in the last financial year.

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