The seasonal worker programs of Australia and New Zealand: A study in contrasts

Australia has a strong reliance on temporary skilled workers, admitting near to 60,000 in financial year 2013-14. However, few of these workers are from Australia’s closest neighbours in the Pacific and Timor-Leste. Two policy responses from the Australian government to address this lack of access have been the Australian Pacific Technical College (APTC) and Seasonal Worker Program (SWP). Both have had little or no impact on giving more access to temporary work in Australia.
The focus of this seminar is on the Seasonal Worker Program set up in 2009, initially as a pilot, to provide short-term access for ‘unskilled’ workers in horticulture. The SWP was modelled on New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Scheme. However, the two programs have produced very different results. In financial year 2013-2014, some 7,855 seasonal workers, mostly from the Pacific, went to work in New Zealand under the RSE. In the same period for Australia, only 2,014 workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste gained entry for work under SWP. What factors are making it very difficult for Australia’s SWP to expand, as New Zealand’s program has done?
The seminar will outline the key differences between the two programs and show why New Zealand’s program has been more successful. These key differences include: the place of horticulture in the wider economy, reasons for starting the programs, the role of employers in initiating the programs and in how they operate, how lead country recruitment was managed, government and employer attitude to illegal workers, and flexibility in the two programs’ requirements.