Skybury Farms

Transitioning workers from seasonal work to the Pacific Labour Scheme

Skybury Tropical Plantation in Mareeba in Queensland joined the Seasonal Worker Programme in 2018, recruiting workers from Papua New Guinea. The business is pleased with the workers it has recruited and intends to now recruit from the Pacific Labour Scheme.

Skybury Farms business development manager Paul Fagg with four PNG workers

‘They’re very hard workers’

Skybury Tropical Plantation in Mareeba, far north Queensland, has produced coffee and tropical fruit from its sprawling 470 acres on the Atherton Tablelands for more than 30 years.

Like a lot of Australian growers, the family-owned business has had difficulty finding enough workers in the local area to meet both its seasonal and non-seasonal labour needs.

To get around this, the business is now supplementing its pool of local workers and backpackers by recruiting workers from Papua New Guinea (PNG) through the Australian Government’s two Pacific labour mobility initiatives: the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS).

Skybury joined the SWP in 2018, giving it access to a group of unskilled and low-skilled workers from PNG to boost its seasonal workforce.

Workers recruited through the SWP can work up to nine months over a 12-month period, which has reduced the time and costs the business had previously faced in terms of retraining staff.

Skybury business development manager Paul Fagg said bringing the initial group of seasonal PNG workers to the plantation was such a success that several more groups have been recruited.

“We brought our first set of workers through in early 2018,” Paul said. “We’re currently on our second set of workers and we’ve just applied for a third set of workers as well.”

Paul said Skybury’s PNG staff have a great work ethic and participate in various tasks to help manage the different varieties of tree crops on the tropical plantation.

“[Our PNG workers are] predominantly in our picking and packing operations but they also help with land preparation, irrigation, staking and our nursery operations as well,” he said. “They’re very hard workers.”

Paul Fagg said the business plans to bring more workers from PNG to work on the plantation in future, and will now start also recruiting through the PLS.

“Our longer-term plan is to try to bring more workers over,” he said. “We’ll look at really identifying those workers with managerial skills or potential managerial skills and try to transition some of those workers on to the PLS.”

‘They’ve brought enthusiasm to the operation’

Paul said being able to recruit workers for a longer period through the PLS will benefit both Skybury and the workers it employs through the scheme.

“[Through the PLS] we can have [workers] for a little bit longer and increase their skills and experience, not just from a farming point of view but from a people point of view and a management point of view,” he said.

“This will really give them a whole range of transferable skills which they can take home as well.”

Paul said the workers they have employed from PNG have proved to be a popular addition to their workforce.

“Our team leaders in the picking crews, they’ll fight in the morning over the PNG workers because they’re so good at what they do,” he explained.

“They’ve really brought enthusiasm to the operation and a work ethic as well. Long may it continue!”

(Location is indicative to the nearest town)
A Papua New Guinean worker picking papaya at Skybury Farms in Mareeba, Queensland