Australia to establish guest worker scheme in agriculture

Plan hopes to adress staff shortages

SYDNEY (Reuters) — Australia will introduce a permanent guest worker scheme for citizens of poor neighbouring countries to address staff shortages in agriculture, according to government ministers said.

It will start on July 1, 2012, and follows a successful pilot scheme, the ministers said. A separate three-year trial will also begin in the tourism industry, where Australian employers also have numerous unfilled vacancies.

Under the scheme, workers from Australia's poverty-stricken neighbours will be able to come to Australia for a few months at a time to do jobs which Australian employers have struggled to fill.

Australia's strict immigration rules have made it difficult for important sectors of its economy to attract labour, particularly in remote areas.

Proponents say a guest worker scheme, under which workers are allowed in on a seasonal basis, is an ideal solution and will also benefit Australia's neighbours.

The countries whose nationals will be allowed to take part in the scheme are East Timor, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

"Australian employers in the horticulture sector unable to source enough local Australian workers will now be able to access a reliable, returning seasonal workforce," employment minister Bill Shorten said in the statement. "Employers will now have certainty at harvest time and seasonal workers will be able to improve their skills and have a level of financial security."

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said it would make a real difference to the economies of the countries involved.

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