Information about the inquiry

Information about the inquiry

The Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the value and practicability of using contract labour from Pacific region countries to meet the seasonal employment needs of the horticultural and other intensive agricultural industries. There are implications in such a policy for the current seasonal workforce, for social effects on local communities, and for immigration control measures and Australia's relations with Pacific countries. 

Evidence regarding a seasonal employment scheme to bring workers from Pacific nations was received by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade references committee in its 2003 inquiry into relations with the Pacific. The report of this committee recommended a pilot program to allow labour to be sourced from the Pacific region for seasonal work in Australia. In response the Government noted that no previous government had previously supported such a policy proposal. There had been both political and bureaucratic objections to the recommendation.

Since then, there has been renewed interest in a Pacific island seasonal workers program from the National Farmers' Federation. The NFF's Rural Labour Action Plan, released in October 2005, highlighted the shortage of seasonal workers, and gave cautious support for such a short-term contract scheme to cover temporary and peak gaps in the rural labour market. At the time, ACTU offered cautious and conditional support to the idea, while raising a concern about effects on the existing seasonal workforce and on conditions of employment.

It has been suggested that a Pacific region scheme should resemble Canada's seasonal agricultural workers program which has been in operation since 1966. This requires that workers return home at the end of the season, with the expectation of their return to work in Canada the following year. The advantage of the scheme is the efficiency which results from employing a regular skilled workforce.

Although the issue of Australia receiving seasonal workers from Pacific island nations was not raised formally at this year's Pacific Island Forum, there was renewed pressure from Pacific island leaders for Australia and New Zealand to accept seasonal agricultural workers to help their struggling economies. Australia has so far resisted this pressure, but it is unlikely to be discontinued by small Pacific nations. The value of remittances is a valuable source of revenue for Pacific countries and is seen as a vital strategy in relieving the effects of unemployment and consequent social disharmony.

In the course of its inquiry the committee has visited horticultural centres along the Murray River, in the Lockyer Valley and Bundaberg districts in Queensland, in the Ord River district in Western Australia and at Katherine and Darwin in the Northern Territory. The purpose of the visits was to hear from local grower organisations about the need for additional seasonal labour.

Canberra hearings have been scheduled for 22-23 August, at which peak bodies, government departments and some individual witnesses will be invited to appear.

Terms of reference


The committee invites submissions addressing some or all of the terms of reference. Late submissions are being accepted. The committee expects to report on 18 October 2006.

Inquiries from hearing and speech impaired people should be directed to the Parliament House TTY number (02) 6277 7799. Adobe also provides tools for the blind and visually impaired to access PDF documents. These tools are available at: If you require any special arrangements in order to enable you to participate in a committee inquiry, please contact the committee secretary.

For further information, contact:

Committee Secretary
Senate Standing Committees on Education, Employment and Workplace Relations
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: +61 2 6277 3521
Fax: +61 2 6277 5706