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More than 160 seasonal workers from Vanuatu have arrived in Darwin to boost the mango-picking workforce in the Northern Territory for this year’s harvest.
the main points:
- About 160 New Vanuatu arrived in Darwin to pick mangoes in Top End orchards
- Northern Territory farmers say seasonal workers are badly needed
- A second flight carrying 220 workers is scheduled to depart from Samoa on September 19
The workers arrived on a chartered flight from Port Vila on Tuesday and will spend 14 days at the Howard Springs quarantine facility, before heading to work through Top End orchards.
The group will join dozens of Ni Vanuatu harvest workers who arrived in September last year and had their visas extended to continue picking the fruit.
Without them, Mark Smith, manager of Darwin Fruit Farmers, said that many farmers would not be able to send mangoes to market.
“We would have gone bankrupt,” said Mr. Smith.
“You know, in the end, if you drop the fruit too many times on the ground, it won’t last long.”
The cost of a charter flight carrying Vanuatu mango pickers, as well as the cost of financing a supervised quarantine period for each worker, puts the industry at more than $650,000.
A second flight carrying 220 workers from Samoa is scheduled to arrive in Darwin on September 19.
The Northern Territory government said it was working with the Australian, Vanuatu and Samoa governments to arrange charter flights for workers and quarantine.
“The region’s manga is by far the best, but it’s important that we have workers,” said Agriculture Minister Nicole Manison.
But Nino Niceforo, a mango grower in Katherine, said the Northern Territory government had failed to support all farmers.
Speaking to ABC Country Hour, Mr Niceforo said he had arranged for 75 seasonal workers to come to Australia, but they were forced into quarantine in Western Australia because the Northern Territory government did not allow them to use the facilities in Darwin.
“I screwed it up so much,” he said.
We don’t get any support at all from the regional government.”
The NT mango industry generates more than $130 million annually, and accounts for more than half of Australia’s mango production, according to the NT Growers Association.
He called on Australian prisoners and unemployed to help
Paul Burke, chief executive of the Northern Territory Farmers’ Association, said “a lot of inmates” were already picking fruit on Northern Territory farms as part of a prisoner employment program.
However, the extra shoes on the floor were not enough to offset the labor shortage caused by COVID in an industry that relies on foreign workers.
That’s why he urged Australians to raise their hands and call Harvest Trail Services, an Australian government-run service that connects job seekers with farmers and farmers in the Top End.
“I just want to repeat: there are jobs here if any Australian wants a job,” Burke said.
“We have a lot of work to do.”
However, getting a job picking fruit during a pandemic is not as simple as picking up the phone.
Burke said about 220 Australians had registered their interest in coming to the Northern Territory to pick the fruit, but were stuck in the closed states of New South Wales and Victoria.
Meanwhile, more than 6,500 seasonal workers arrived in Australia under the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP) between August last year and July 31, according to data from the federal Ministry of Education, Skills and Employment.
This number includes at least 342 arrivals in the Northern Territory.
Burke said the minimum reward for the fruit picker is $24.95.
“We have zero tolerance for exploitation,” he said.
“They get paid by the hour, like everyone else in any other industry.”
The mixed season awaits mango growers in the Northern Territory
Seasonal workers may have arrived, but the weather seems to have been not so pleasant for many mango growers.
The industry released its first forecast for the crop for the season, with expectations that the Darwin area will produce about 2.8 million Chinese – similar to last year.
“I have always been a firm believer that after a good wet season we will have a good mango season in terms of volume, but [the weather] “We’ve all been proven wrong,” said Leo Skleros, president of the NT Mango Industry Association.
“I spoke to cultivators and the pattern that emerged was the same.
“There are certain species like KP (Kensington Pride) that have very, very low yields across Australia, but there appear to be species like R2E2 and Calypso that are heavier [yields] of the past few years.”
“The fruit in there looks so good even though it’s sweet and juicy, I just hope we can remove that crop and get it to the public.”
About 70,000 trays of mangoes have been picked in the Northern Territory over the past two weeks, and the Northern Territory mango season is set to reach its peak around mid-October.
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