Skip to main content
  • Pacific Islands men serve food.
Case study - Goulburn Valley thanks workers
Chicken dinners a way of saying thanks to PALM scheme workers after winning harvest

After a successful harvest season, the Goulburn Valley wanted a way to thank Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme workers for their hard work. So they organised the workers their favourite meal.

The region's fruit growers were faced with the prospect of labour shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Victoria's lockdowns, which severely restricted its usual workforce of Australian seasonal workers and international backpackers.

A group of Pacific Island men stand in a fruit packing shed.
Workers at MJ Hall orchard in the Goulburn Valley.

So, the region turned to the Seasonal Worker Programme and saw a 4-fold increase in the number of Pacific island workers and double the number of approved employers involved in 2022.

They increased the number of workers from 100 to 400, mainly from Samoa and Vanuatu, who worked the apple and pear season between November and May.

Carolyn Pearson, the Grower Liaison Officer – Harvest Labour with Fruit Growers Victoria, said they had secured funding as part of the Victorian Government’s Seasonal Worker Accommodation Program and wanted to show appreciation to the workers for helping the community in Shepparton. 

A chicken dinner, the workers' favourite food, was the perfect way to say thank you.

"We give them a meal and have a chat to them and just to let them know the community thanks them for being here and that we appreciate what they do for us," she said. 

A group of Pacific Island men sand under an umbrella outside.
Workers from Top of the Crop after a thank-you dinner.

In turn, the workers showed their gratitude by singing for their hosts. 

"Part of the workers' tradition is to sing songs of thanks and they're always very thankful for us having them here to pick. But we should be much more thankful to them because they’re getting us out of a real hole," Ms Pearson said. 

"Some guys have been doing the Seasonal Worker Programme for a while and have been here for two years plus due to COVID-related border closures and when they come to you and say, 'Nobody has ever done anything nice to us like this before', it's an affirmation that we’ve done a good thing."

Many of the workers come to Australia with goals to support their families as well to pick up new skills.  

Ms Pearson said one of the workers in Goulburn Valley aimed to start a water taxi business in Vanuatu, while another was using the money to pay for their child to attend boarding school in New Zealand. 

She said the growers had enjoyed learning more about their staff's cultures. 

"The community is very supportive of the workers and the growers have created these great relationships with their workers. Most of them will call them Mum and Dad," Ms Pearson said. 

"And it's been an interesting cultural learning for me and the other growers to learn about Vanuatu and Samoa." 

Ms Pearson said for many of the region’s fruit growers, Pacific island workers will continue to be part of their seasonal workforce for years to come. 

"They know the workers are going to work hard, they’re reliable and they’re good people," she said.