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Productivity surges with seasonal workers for Quebec Citrus

Troy and Ainsley Emmerton employ about 50 seasonal workers, both male and female, over the course of the year through the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP), a Federal Government initiative which allows farmers to access seasonal labour.

Hesitant to jump straight in, Troy and Ainsley Emmerton of Quebec Citrus started out by trialling the SWP through a neighbour.

The following year they were travelling to Tonga to pick their first group of workers, and they have not looked back in six years.

The Emmertons employ about 50 seasonal workers, both male and female, over the course of the year through the initiative. They top this up with backpackers when extra hands are needed at short notice and also have about 20 core permanent staff from the local community.

Troy and Ainsley Emmerton of Quebec Citrus are pictured with Seasonal Worker Programme employees from Tonga (back) Manase Latu, Aulua Kiole, Hola Malupo and (front) Auckland Fisiihoi and Tonga Faumotu.

Quebec Citrus grows Imperial and Murcott mandarins and seedless lemons for export and domestic markets.

The largest group of seasonal workers arrives for harvest each year, while smaller teams help out at other times of the year, such as during pruning and fertilising. Despite concerns with some aspects of the programme, such as the upfront administrative burden and labour market testing requirements, the Emmertons are now big supporters.

The Emmertons estimate that 70 per cent of their seasonal workers are a returning workforce.

They are already trained, familiar with the farm and willing to work hard, and the Emmertons appreciate the real willingness to work that the seasonal workers show. “Their productivity is amazing” Mrs Emmerton said.

After making the trip to Tonga themselves in the first year, the Emmertons now rely on their team leaders and existing workers to pick new recruits.

Sharing some insight into the character of the seasonal workers, the Emmertons explained a strong community attitude means sometimes the Tongan workers will stick around after finishing a run to help any who are still going finish the bins off.

During the floods in 2011 and 2012 the Tongan workers came to the rescue, volunteering in Mundubbera to get items out of the floodwater and clean up the houses after the flood.

The Emmertons aim to organise social events, such as a pig on the spit and volleyball matches, for their workers throughout the year

Prior to using the programme, Quebec Citrus relied heavily on backpackers to get the work done. And before that, the Emmertons had plenty of local residents willing to do the work. Unfortunately they’re no longer looking for the work. “Twenty years ago there used to be locals who would do the harvest circuit across Australia and school leavers who would spend time with us,” said Mr Emmerton. Fortunately, in spite of some drawbacks, the Seasonal Worker Programme can take up some of the slack.

Case study by Kimberly Pearsall, Senior Advisor – Policy and Legal, National Farmers’ Federation in collaboration with Susie Cunningham, Senior Communications Officer, Growcom.

Related content: Seasonal work in Australia helps Manase Latu rebuild his life at home

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