Vanuatu’s High Commissioner in Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Employment have confirmed that 480 Ni-Vanuatu Workers in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria are directly affected by the bushfires, but are safe.
The Approved Employers are taking measures and necessary step to provide assistance to them.
This was confirmed by the Commissioner of Labour in Vanuatu, Murielle Metsan Meltenoven, to Daily Post on Wednesday.
“We are working very closely with our High Commissioner in Canberra and the Australian High Commission in Vanuatu through DFAT in providing update to our office regarding the welfare of our seasonal workers under the SWP Program in Australia. We also liaise closely with the Pacific Labour Mobility Section regarding the situation of the Ni-Vanuatu Workers in Australia,” she said.
Pacific Labour Scheme workers
“Authorities are closely monitoring bushfires across the country using various sources of information including state rural fire/emergency services and the media. The majority of Ni-Vanuatu Pacific Labour Scheme workers are not in areas currently experiencing high fire risk, the exceptions being Tolga, Casino and Scone where the current fire risk rating is high or very high, although only Tolga has an active bushfire nearby.
• Tolga (9 workers). An active bushfire is currently burning around 50kms from Tolga but the local fire service advises that Tolga is currently safe. The Employer has advised that in the event of heightened fire risk, the workers will be evacuated to a safer place and will be guided by the Queensland Rural Fire Service.
• Casino (4 workers). No fires currently in the areas. Employer was due to conduct a ‘Toolbox talk’ with the workers yesterday afternoon to ensure they stay informed via the website. The employer is also in the process of developing a contingency safety plan in the event the risk increases. The employer and workers will be guided by the NSW Rural Fire Service.
• Scone (12 workers). No fires currently in the area. Employer has advised that the workers will be evacuated to a safer place guided by the NSW Rural Fire Services, should bushfires threaten the area.
The Pacific Labour Facility is planning to send an email to all Approved Employers to remind them to ensure they take appropriate steps to prepare for any fire risks and communicate clearly with workers.
Seasonal Worker Programme workers
“The Department of Employment advises that there are around 100 Ni-Vanuatu Seasonal Workers who may be directly affected by the bushfires in New South Wales and Victoria in the local government areas of East Gippsland, Wellington, Greater Shepparton and Snowy Valleys. At this stage, they have not received any formal notification from Approved Employers in these regions on the impact of the bushfires and extreme weather conditions. The department issued a reminder to all Approved Employers on 20 December 2019 and will issue another today (yesterday) through the AE Communique, to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all seasonal workers on sites which may be affected by extreme heat and bushfires. Today’s (yesterday) communique will also include information on air quality.
“Further below is the information I got from the Department of Employment in Australia to our High Commission Office in Canberra:
The Labour Commissioner also received information from the Department of Employment in Australia to the Vanuatu High Commissioner in Canberra that states:
“I can advise that 48 ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers were evacuated from Batlow, NSW. They were evacuated to Wagga Wagga, NSW and remain accommodated there. The Approved Employer is paying for the workers to stay at a motel. They have been advised that the accommodation in Batlow where the workers were staying has had no damage and the farm has had some damage but not significant. The farm has advised there is still plenty of work available for the workers when they return. At this point in time they don’t have a date for the workers to return to Batlow as they are relying on advice from the Emergency Services but they are hoping to find out by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. They will give the department an update later in the week and if it is not looking like they will return soon then the Approved Employer will consider alternative options.
“I can also advise that there are 63 ni-Vanuatu seasonal workers in Victoria who are in fire areas of ‘advice’. These workers are in Lindenow, VIC (43) and Hillside, VIC (20). At present, they are safe to keep working. The Approved Employers and the department will continue to monitor these situations,” the Vanuatu High Commissioner in Canberra told Vanuatu Commissioner of Labor with assurances of the safety and wellbeing of Ni-Vanuatu Seasonal Workers in Australia.
On the question of Ni-Vanuatu Workers being affected, Commissioner of Labour Murielle replied “Yes, they are affected but the Approved Employer (AE) and the Australian Government are monitoring this issue and are advising us accordingly.
On the question of farms being affected, Ms Vanuatu Commissioner of Labour said “Yes, there are farms in the affected areas - NSW and Victoria.
On the question of some of workers in affected areas in NSW and Victoria likely to return home, Ms Meltenoven said “This is not yet confirmed by the Australian Authority and any Approved Employer, however if worse comes to worse and as far as our workers welfare is concerned, we have to facilitate for their return back to Vanuatu for safety purpose. Our priority at the moment is to make sure that our workers are safe and we are in touch with DFAT and our High Commissioner in Canberra on this matter for updates.
In terms of long term effect, “Yes, it will especially in the area of NSW and Victoria if some of the biggest farmers are destroyed by the fire. This will leave no job and employment to our workers. However, if the Australian Farmers wishes to engage our workers to rebuild their farm we will be happy to assist them by supplying our workers to go and assist Australian Farmers to rebuild their farm by planting back the tree or fruits and vegetables in the areas affected by the bushfire,” Commissioner Meltenoven said.