Ni-Vanuatu workers arrive in Western Australia to combat labour shortages on farms | Ralph-Lauren

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More than 300 Ni-Vanuatu will be working at farms and meat processors across Western Australia by the end of the month, with more overseas workers likely to arrive in coming weeks.

The usual backpacker workforce is thinning and many locals are turning their back on the work, leaving workers from Pacific Island countries as the only option for some farmers.

Already 154 Ni-Vanuatu workers have arrived to help, including Remo Kalours who is working with 57 others from Vanuatu at a table grape farm 100 kilometres south of Perth.

Mr Kalours said the most challenging part of the job for him was the two weeks he had to spend in hotel quarantine.

“It’s very hard for me when I stay inside a hotel for 14 days,” he said.

Two Vanuatu men picking grapes for harvest.
Remo Kalours and Jonathan Virakikia started working in Western Australia this week.(ABC South West: Jacqueline Lynch)

Mr Kalours is working alongside Jonathan Virakikia, who said jobs on Australian farms were much sought-after back home.

“We are proud to be here,” Mr Virakikia said.

“The job is very good, it’s not hard like Vanuatu where some jobs are very hard and you don’t earn enough money.

Saving grace for grape grower

The arrival of the Vanuatu workers came at a critical time for Fruitico, the state’s largest table grape producer, with the start of harvest just weeks away.

Up to 800,000 boxes of grapes will be picked at the farm from next month but without the Vanuatu workers doubling the company’s workforce, assistant farm manager Kevin Dell’Agostino said they might not have made it to harvest.

Table grapes not ready to be harvested
Up to 800,000 boxes of grapes will be picked at Fruitico from February.(ABC News)

“It’s [also] all the work that comes before that … We have just been through our leafing period and if that doesn’t get done, the quality of the fruit is poor.”

Mr Dell’Agostino said many locals had turned their back on the work.

“Through our leafing period I think we had about 50 people start locally and most of them just came back and said ‘That’s not the job for me’,” he said.

‘It is the only option’

There are now more than 300 Ni-Vanuatu workers in Western Australia, after a second plane landed in the state this week.

But with thousands of workers needed each month in WA, these two groups won’t be enough to fix labour shortages around the state.

Vegetables WA worked with the State Government to bring the workers in.

Chief executive officer John Shannon said that with backpackers leaving the WA in droves, workers from Vanuatu were the state’s best option to fill the void.

Two Vanuatu workers preparing grapes for harvest in Western Australia
Almost 2,000 workers from Pacific countries and Timor-Leste have entered Australia since September.(ABC News)

“It is the only option,” Mr Shannon said.

The State Government is allowing the workers to come into WA above its cap on international arrivals and is hoping to allow more Ni-Vanuatu workers into the state.

Almost 2,000 workers from nine Pacific countries and Timor-Leste have entered Australia since September last year to help curb worker shortages caused by the pandemic.

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