Backpackers picking fruit to get visa extensions in Australia are undermining a seasonal worker program for Pacific Islanders.
That’s the verdict of a new World Bank and Australian National University study released on Wednesday.
Australia’s seasonal worker program, aimed at reducing poverty in the region, brings workers from eight island nations and East Timor to Australia for 14 weeks to six months.
A similar capped New Zealand program is attracting 9000 workers a year, but Australia’s has only has 2500.
Report author Stephen Howes believes a ready supply of backpackers contributes to the lower demand for seasonal workers.
Backpackers can get a visa extension to stay in Australia for a second year if they work for three months in regional Australia in agriculture, mining or construction – and about 40,000 backpackers complete farms stints.
There are also financial and administrative burdens on growers using Pacific Islander labour, such as accommodation and private health insurance costs, Professor Howes said.
‘Backpackers turn up at your door, you don’t have to do anything,’ he told AAP.
However, Prof Howes said most producers surveyed preferred using Pacific Islanders as they believed they were more reliable and harder working.
The study recommends removing or reducing the second year visa extension for working holidays, or expanding the number of sectors backpackers can work in.
In NZ, backpackers only get an extra three-month stay for three months of farm work.
The report says the federal government could do a better job promoting the seasonal workers program within the horticulture industry.
The study surveyed 217 employers and 43 industry bodies.
Australia is currently negotiating a trade pact known as Pacer Plus with 13 Pacific Island countries.
Greater labour mobility is a sticking point.
* Remove employer contributions to airfares for returning workers.
* Cover new workers’ costs with a revolving fund
* Cut minimum 14 weeks work requirement for greater flexibility
* Allow islanders to work for multiple farms
* Remove labour market testing requirement for seasonal workers in postcodes already qualifying for backpacker farm workers.