Another 161 workers departed Vanuatu on Wednesday morning bound for Australia’s Northern Territory to pick mangoes under the Australian Government’s Seasonal Worker Programme.

The departure follows a successful pilot in September which saw 162 workers travel to the Northern Territory under the Programme, making them the first seasonal workers to enter Australia since the borders closed in March.

“Australia welcomes the Vanuatu Government’s decision to recommence participation in Australia’s labour mobility programs,” said Australia’s High Commissioner Sarah deZoeten. “The initiative is a testament to the strength of the Australia-Vanuatu relationship and will benefit both economies as our two countries stand together at this difficult time.”

The first group of workers have now been working for a month and have now settled comfortably into their temporary homes and new roles.

One worker, Lucy Felix, said she and her fellow workers were well cared for while they were in quarantine. “We felt comfortable and safe – the quarantine officers really looked after us and helped us with everything we needed.”

Lucy said she was excited about starting work on a mango farm. “I am looking forward to earning money, taking it home to my family and upgrading my livelihood,” she said.

“After the COVID-19 crisis, I have a goal to invest my money in agriculture so I can plant crops and sell them at markets to earn money and help my family – bringing it back to my community.”

Another worker, Marina Newero, said “it’s a big opportunity for us to come here and most of us have goals for when we return to Vanuatu”.

“A lot of us want to buy land, build new houses, pay for kids’ school fees and upgrade our living standards back home,” she said.

The NT is currently free of COVID-19, and there are currently no reported cases of the virus among Seasonal Worker Programme workers in Australia.

The businesses involved in the program are all putting workers’ health and wellbeing first and have introduced strict hygiene and social distancing measures to keep them safe.

Participating SWP approved employers and host farms have also developed rapid response strategies in the unlikely event a worker contracts the virus, including isolating and testing affected workers as required, and contact tracing.

Barry Albrecht of Arnhem Mangoes said the business has made sure it is complying with official safety regulations.

“We completed the COVID-19 plan with the chief health authority and followed all the instructions. We passed with flying colours and were cleared to safely bring workers on to the farm,” he said.

Barry said the welcome arrival of the ni-Vanuatu workers is helping his farm address ongoing local labour shortages, which have been made worse throughout the pandemic. Important health measures, including 14 days’ quarantine, will apply to protect the health of both the communities in the Northern Territory and the workers.

“Thanks to both the Australian and Vanuatu Governments for getting this first flight of people over here to help pick these mangoes,” he said. “It’s really taken the pressure off my company.”

When the ni-Vanuatu workers came out of quarantine on 17 September, Vanuatu’s High Commissioner to Australia His Excellency Samson Vilvil Fare was also there to offer encouragement as they headed to the mango farms where they will be working.

He told the ABC the workers were all in good spirits. “They were well looked after while they were in quarantine in a well-equipped facility here in Darwin – now they are ready to go out there and work,” he said.

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