Fri, Jan 18, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Australia expands Pacific labor scheme

Reuters, SYDNEY

Fijians will be allowed to work in Australia for up to three years, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, as Canberra expands a regional labor scheme in a bid to win favor with its neighbors amid rising competition from China.

Australia and China are vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean. They both offer cheap loans and grants for infrastructure, but Australia is also seeking to build on cultural ties with its regional neighbors.

As part of that drive, Morrison said that Fijian workers could join the Pacific Labour Scheme, which allows men and women from several island nations to work in industries such as agriculture and tourism in Australia.

“Our partnership with each other has to be done in the spirit of a family relationship and I think that’s what we’ve been able to achieve today,” Morrison told a media briefing in Suva.

The scheme allows men and women from Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu aged 21 to 45 to work in Australia for up to three years.

It is popular with Australian farmers who struggle to hire enough workers for jobs such as picking fruit. Islanders can earn wages in Australia well in excess of their average incomes at home.

“The opportunity is transformational for many,” Australian National University Crawford School of Public Policy professor of economics Stephen Howes said.

The expansion of the labor scheme is the second regional announcement made by Morrison, who is on a Pacific tour.

In Vanuatu on Wednesday, Morrison said that Australia would allow imports of kava, an intoxicating drink that is deeply embedded in the social fabric of Pacific islanders.

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