Dec 15, 2017 Last Updated 3:10 AM, Dec 12, 2017

PACER Plus ‘modest’

WITH the European Union abandoning long-running negotiations for a comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the proposed Pacific PACER-Plus trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand now takes on greater significance.

With negotiators aiming to conclude the PACER-Plus negotiations before July 2016, a May meeting in Vanuatu meeting saw progress on issues such as trade in services and funding for aid for trade. However, the unresolved debate over labour mobility will determine whether a regional trade deal can be struck.

At the Port Vila meeting, Pacific negotiators announced that increased access to the Australian and New Zealand labour markets remains a pillar of any agreement: “With respect to labour mobility and development assistance, without substantive commitments by Australia and New Zealand on these two issues, it would be difficult for PACER Plus to fulfil its objective of enhancing the participation of the PICs in international trade. The demands from the PICs are clear and have been stated numerous times. We want to see concrete steps forward in these areas as soon as practicable.”

Dr. Edwini Kessie, who heads the Office of the Chief Trade Advisor (OCTA) in Vanuatu, told Islands Business: “Modest progress was made on labour mobility. However, Australia and New Zealand haven’t responded to our core demands: firstly, to remove or substantially lift the cap on the number of workers to be recruited under the (Australian) SWP and (New Zealand) RSE programs; secondly, to extend those programs to other occupations such as aged care; and thirdly, to extend the schemes to all Forum Island Countries.”

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by Nic Maclellan

AUSTRALIA’S Pacific Seasonal Workers Program (SWP) is coming under close scrutiny to the extent that any future expansion could be in jeopardy.

Implemented in July 2012, the SWP scheme allows for people from 10 Pacific countries to work in fruit picking and some other sectors in Australia for a period of between 14 weeks to six months.

It is a popular scheme because of Australia’s high wage rates. However, unlike New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) program, which has flourished since 2007, the SWP has struggled to increase its numbers.

Backpackers have the numbers

Australian industry preferences for backpackers is high because of a lower regulatory regime.

Australia has three types of visa for temporary migration: the Temporary Work visa (subclass 457) for skilled workers; two types of Working Holiday Maker visas (subclasses 417 and 462); and the Seasonal Worker Program (subclass 416), which allows Pacific island workers to be recruited for the horticulture industry.

The s417 Working Holiday Maker (WHM) visa enables young backpackers to holiday in Australia and supplement their travel funds through short-term employment.

In November 2005, the then Howard coalition government introduced immigration reforms which allowed for a 12-month WHM s417 visa to be extended for a second year if the applicant does harvest work for three months in a rural or regional area. This reform was extended in 2006 to include the whole agriculture sector and again in 2008, to include mining and construction.

Since the 2005 reforms, the number of people granted a second year s417 extension has risen from 26,821 in December 2012 to 37,088 in December 2014. There is now growing debate about these schemes in Australia with a Senate committee investigating the impact of Australia’s temporary work programs on the Australian labour market. Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman is also investigating breaches of labour law for migrant workers. 

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by Nic Maclellan

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