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Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme: why has take-up been so low?

Author

Listed:
  • Danielle Hay

    () (Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University)

  • Stephen Howes

    () (Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University)

Abstract

The Australian Government introduced the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) in 2008 to allow Pacific Islanders to fill seasonal labour shortages in the horticulture industry, and announced in December 2011 that the scheme would be made permanent. Take-up of the scheme is increasing but has been very low. As of the end of March 2012, only 1,100 PSWPS workers have arrived since the scheme’s commencement. This study tries to explain why the PSWPS has not employed more Pacific workers. It distinguishes between different hypotheses that could explain the poor outcome, and uses quantitative and qualitative analysis to test each hypothesis, including a survey of growers. The study finds a number of reasons for the low take-up. Growers are largely satisfied with their current labour supply, in terms of both quantity and quality: 93 percent of growers interviewed said they had no trouble finding labour, and 81 percent were satisfied with the quality of their existing labour force. The scheme is not well known: half the growers surveyed had simply not heard of the scheme, and most of those who had lacked information about it. The scheme also suffers from perceptions of high levels of risk and costs, including excessive red tape. Despite its slow start, PSWPS might still succeed on the basis of the productivity gains it has already shown it can deliver. But this is by no means assured: even growers who are unhappy with their current labour supply arrangements are reluctant to try the PSWPS. For the scheme to expand, the Australian Government will need to promote the scheme much more vigorously, and reduce the scheme’s financial and compliance costs. The Government also needs to attend to illegal horticultural labour practices, and tackle the booming working holiday visa category. Most growers now rely mainly on backpackers, and their numbers have increased rapidly in recent years: we estimate the number of backpackers working on farms increased from 13,000 in 2001-02 to 37,000 in 2007-08. In particular, the special preference which horticulture receives under the working holiday visa category should be removed. The policy challenges involved in making the PSWPS work should not be underestimated. Other avenues should also be explored for promoting Pacific migration, including adoption of New Zealand’s quota-based Pacific permanent migration schemes.

Suggested Citation

  • Danielle Hay & Stephen Howes, 2012. "Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme: why has take-up been so low?," Development Policy Centre Discussion Papers 1217, Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
  • Handle: RePEc:een:devpol:1217
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    File URL: http://devpolicy.anu.edu.au/pdf/papers/DP_17_-_Australia's_Pacific_Seasonal_Worker_Pilot_Scheme.pdf
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    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Why are seasonal immigrant worker programs so unpopular?
      by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2012-05-18 19:55:00
    2. Crawford School Working Papers in April 2012
      by David Stern in Stochastic Trend on 2012-05-03 16:44:00

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. John Gibson & David McKenzie, 2014. "Development through seasonal worker programs: the case of New Zealand’s RSE program," Chapters,in: International Handbook on Migration and Economic Development, chapter 7, pages 186-210 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. Michael Clemens, Colum Graham, and Stephen Howes, 2014. "Skill Development and Regional Mobility: Lessons from the Australia-Pacific Technical College - Working Paper 370," Working Papers 370, Center for Global Development.
    3. Ellero, Jeremy & Lagadec, Gael, 2014. "Le Pacifique insulaire dans le cadre d'échange multilatéral : quel accord de libre-échange pour les territoires français du Pacifique ?," MPRA Paper 60016, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    4. John Gibson & David McKenzie & Halahingano Rohorua, 2014. "Development Impacts of Seasonal and Temporary Migration: A Review of Evidence from the Pacific and Southeast Asia," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 18-32, January.
    5. Michael Clemens, 2013. "The Effect of Foreign Labor on Native Employment: A Job-Specific Approach and Application to North Carolina Farms- Working Paper 326," Working Papers 326, Center for Global Development.
    6. John Gibson & David McKenzie, 2014. "Development through seasonal worker programs: the case of New Zealand’s RSE program," Chapters,in: International Handbook on Migration and Economic Development, chapter 7, pages 186-210 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. Wesley Morgan, 2014. "Trade Negotiations and Regional Economic Integration in the Pacific Islands Forum," Asia and the Pacific Policy Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(2), pages 325-336, May.
    8. Ellero, Jeremy & Lagadec, Gael, 2014. "Le Pacifique insulaire dans le cadre d'échange multilatéral : quel accord de libre-échange pour les territoires français du Pacifique ?," MPRA Paper 60043, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    migration; Pacific;

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

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