Samoa is set to join Australia’s Pacific Labour Scheme (P.L.S.) incentive where countries like Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu are already benefitting from.
The announcement was made by Australia’s visiting Foreign Minister Julie Bishop at the launching of the A.P.T.C-Stage 3 on Thursday.
Separate from Australia’s Seasonal Workers Programme, P.L.S. is a pilot employment initiative.
Building on the great success of the Seasonal Workers Programme, Ms. Bishop announced that her government initiated the Pacific Labour Scheme, a non-seasonal programme.
“And this will provide opportunities for workers to attain a visa for up to three years to work in areas such as accommodation, tourism; hospitality aged care on non-seasonal workers programme,” she said.
“Currently workers from those three countries are already working in North Queensland and other parts of Australia.
“And Prime Minister, we are currently negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with Samoa so that Samoa too can be a partner in our Pacific Labour Scheme.”
The seasonal workers programme, according to the Foreign Minister since its commencement, over 25,000 Pacific islanders have worked in Australia under this seasonal employment.
About $145 million dollars has come back in the region through remittances. And for Samoa about 1340 Samoans have worked in Australia under the seasonal workers programme.
And if all goes as planned by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) Lautafi Fio Purcell, Samoa will be the fourth Pacific Forum country to participate in the Canberra initiated regional Labour mobility initiative.
Lautafi has taken the initiative to engage his counterparts in Australia including Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells to commit for the two countries to start preparations for Samoa’s graduation into the P.L.S.
“We need to be prepared in all facets to ensure that our people are not exploited taking into consideration that the new employment incentive is unlike the Seasonal workers which provides temporary employment of up to 7 months to 1 year, compared to the 3 years visa under the Pacific Labour Scheme,” said Lautafi.
“So a worker under the P.L.S. will receive a visa for three years and can work up to 9 months, return to Samoa and if there is another opportunity work again can return under the same visa.”
“The MOU will be designed to guarantee that our workers received full benefits and support as prescribed by Australian law.”
In addition, the MOU assured Lautafi will also address the social issues because unlike New Zealand, Samoan workers in Australia will be scattered in areas where they will be isolated from Samoan communities.
Lautafi is however confident that with the R.S.E. Samoa Office’s 10 year experience in setting the pathway that includes the pre-departure processes in place, the only one of its kind in the region, it should be easy for Samoa to adopt and readjust.
And following the Scouts Motto to “Be Prepared” the Minister’s recommendation for Samoa to have a Liaison Officer based in Australia is in the making.
“With that in mind, we need to prepare our workers to endure the long haul because we have had bad experiences with NZ Samoan RSE workers who have missed the opportunities of a lifetime mostly due to home sickness.”
“The Liaison Officer will be responsible to deal with all issues pertaining to welfare of our workers in Australia.
“He or she will be our eyes and ears,” elaborated Lautafi. “This has been proven successful in New Zealand and it should also be the same for Australia, especially given the size of the country.”
Lautafi is also aware that as usual any new employment incentives will be scrutinized.
“I am also mindful of the ritual and vocal critics who have made it a habit of condemning government’s initiative to provide new employment opportunities. They claim that jobs of this nature are draining our local workforce which will spell disaster for villages’ food security as they will no one to work the lands,” added the Labour Minister.
“Well, I hope these critics would tell that to the 3,000 plus Samoans on the R.S.E. waiting list who have voluntarily applied for seasonal jobs in both New Zealand and Australia.
“One of the important requirements of the P.L.S. is that the workers will return home after their working visas expire. There is no eligibility for them to remain in Australia after completion of their employment under P.L.S. identical to the New Zealand R.S.E.
“The idea is for our people to capitalize on their three years in Australia to learn new skills and talents that they will use to their advantage when they return to Samoa.”
Aside from P.L.S., the Minister has reiterated Samoa’s position for Australia to expand their employment opportunities to move from unskilled labour like picking fruit and growing verges to semi-skilled typed work including hospitality, tourism, aged care giving and others for Samoans.