IRONBARK HARVEST: These Tongan men are harvesting Ironbark Citrus’ mandarins as part of the Pacific Island Seasonal Workers Scheme.
IRONBARK HARVEST: These Tongan men are harvesting Ironbark Citrus’ mandarins as part of the Pacific Island Seasonal Workers Scheme. Sue Harris

Farmers breathe a sigh of relief at seasonal work cap change

COFFS Coast farmers can employ more seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands, after the Federal Government removed caps on worker numbers.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz announced the lifting of the sector's cap of 2000, but the overall 12,000-place limit on the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program would remain.

Costa Berries general manager Peter McPherson has welcomed the changes.

"We employ up to 2000 seasonal workers at our Corindi farm each year (and) that's a combination of backpackers from overseas and a handful of Australian workers," Mr McPherson said.

"Anything that makes (finding workers) easier is welcome news - it's a labour-orientated business, and we must find labour," he said.

He added the changes would provide benefit during periods when sourcing workers was challenging.

"We have difficulty (finding workers) in Corindi around Christmas when finding accommodation in the area becomes harder," Mr McPherson said.

"It will definitely benefit our farms in Tasmania and Tumbarumba where we have trouble finding workers throughout the year."

The policy change follows a World Bank report released last week that found backpackers and the use of illegal workers were undermining demand for Pacific workers.

The program allows up to 12,000 Pacific Islanders and Timor-Leste residents to work in Australia for six months, but it has failed to fill the 2000 places made available when it started five years ago.

National Farmers' Federation president Brent Finlay has also welcomed the removal of individual caps in relation to horticulture, cotton, cane and aquaculture.

"They artificially restrict access, because they apply to individual industries rather than the broader agriculture sector," Mr Finlay said.

"These changes will promote flexibility and allow the program to adapt as changes in the labour market require," he said.