Bulmer Farms in the Lindenow Valley, East Gippsland Victoria is a fourth-generation family business that has grown into one of Australia’s largest producers of fresh salad vegetables.
Established in 1940 as a dairy farm, it now provides a range of vegetables including spinach, lettuce and broccoli to markets across the country.
Like many farms, it relies on overseas workers to harvest and process its crops but COVID-related travel restrictions have stopped the usual supply of labour.
Thanks to the Australian Government’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and the Pacific labour Scheme (PLS), the farm has been able to stay afloat during these difficult times with workers from Timor-Leste, Kiribati and Vanuatu.
“We would normally have a number of what we call walk-ins, who are travelers and backpackers, but since COVID, that is no longer a labour option,” said HR manager Karen Grant.
“While we're always looking for local labour solutions, the reality is we need a combination of locals and overseas workers for a successful harvest season. I think without SWP and PLS, we would really struggle.”
'We have a number of women who are stand outs'
Karen said the female workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste were some of the most productive in the business.
“They are working in processing on the wash lines, crate washing, harvesting, picking and planting, they work right across the business, and some have learnt skills in multiple areas,” she said.
“We have a number of women who are stand outs and are achieving new things all the time like Jacinta Aquarta Da Costa. She has worked with us for 18 months now and has successfully completed a first aid certificate, and is a valued member of our OH&S committee.”
Supporting workers to join local community groups
With the workers so far from home, Bulmer Farms has made a real effort to help them integrate into the local community.
“Our PLS workers are here for 3 years, so it is very important that they get involved in our local community and start to feel that this is home for them for now,” Karen said.
“We have found religion is very important and helping workers get access to and become involved in church groups plays a huge role in their wellbeing while they are in Australia.
“In their spare time, it's important that they're staying fit and healthy as well. Some of the women have joined a local gym and the boys enjoy playing soccer, so there’s opportunity for them to join local sports clubs.
“The business has, in the past, accessed local organisations like Friends of Timor and the Multicultural Network. These are run by local people volunteering their time to help international people transition into the community.”
The PLS allows employers to recruit low-skilled and semi-skilled workers for up to 3 years in any sector, while the SWP allows employers in agriculture and accommodation to recruit unskilled and low-skilled workers for 9 months.
To simplify participation in labour mobility, the programs have recently been streamlined so that new employers can join both through a single application form. The new streamlined approach is referred to as the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.