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  • A woman standing in a restaurant cleaning a wine glass
Vanuatu’s seasonal workers are 'a saving grace' in the outback

Ni-Vanuatu hospitality workers Cynthia and Lillian have swapped the Pacific ocean for the red cliffs of Kings Canyon in Australia's outback, embracing the opportunity to gain a new perspective on their industry.

A woman in a uniform standing beside a buggy
Lillian is a housekeeping supervisor at Kings Canyon. 

Cynthia and Lillian have taken up roles with Discovery Kings Canyon*, working for a 6-month season as part of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.

Working here is an opportunity for the women to experience a different environment and try new roles in the hospitality industry.

At the same time, both are saving to build a house, and support their families and communities back home.

But it's not just their own communities that are benefiting from Cynthia and Lillian's participating in the PALM scheme.

The 2 women are among 24 ni-Vanuatu workers filling critical workforce gaps at Discovery Kings Canyon, which has struggled to fill roles since the pandemic.

Restaurant Manager Rohan Maxwell said the PALM scheme workers had brought an energy that has elevated the resort.  

"Their positive attitude is contagious. Their willingness to learn, to contribute and be part of our team has been fantastic.  

"They've honestly been a saving grace for Discovery Kings Canyon," said Rohan.

A new perspective on the industry

A woman in a uniform stands at a bar
Cynthia, who works in food & beverage, is learning new skills through on-the-job training and online courses.

The ni-Vanuatu workers have taken up roles across all departments, including food and beverage, housekeeping, grounds and maintenance. 

Cynthia is currently working as a food and beverage attendant. Although she has a background in hospitality, her role at Kings Canyon is very different from the work she was doing in Vanuatu, and she is happy to be learning a new side of the industry. 

"I mainly work at the restaurant in the a la carte section. We have big tour groups, from 7 people to [groups of] 50 or 60. It’s a good experience I can learn from.

"I've learnt to wait on 20 or 30 a la carte tables by myself. I've never done that before. And that's one of the things that my manager trusted me to do. I believe I did very well," said Cynthia.

Cynthia’s manager Rohan agrees. 

"Cynthia essentially runs front of house at the a la carte restaurant. She's done exceedingly well. She's learned the finer points of table service and a lot about customer service and problem-solving,” said Rohan.

As well as on-the-job training, Discovery Kings Canyon has provided the workers with online courses in a range of topics including first aid, hospitality, housekeeping, food allergies, and safety.

“They gave us this online training and you get a certificate at the end. It’s a privilege to have the certificate because I can show people this when I want to work back home. It’s a blessing,” said Cynthia.

Gaining leadership experience

A woman in a uniform smiling at the camera
Lillian is grateful for the sense of community at Kings Canyon. 

Before joining the PALM scheme, Lillian worked on cruise ships for 8 years as a waitress. 

Now she is working in housekeeping, where she has taken up her first leadership role. 

"I look after 15 staff. Through this I've learned about patience, being quick to listen and slow to talk," she said.

She is thankful for her manager for helping her make the most of the position. 

"My manager gives me all the best skills that I can learn," she said.

With the money she earns in Australia, Lillian hopes to support her church back in Vanuatu and buy land for a house.

"It's very much a big family here."

Lillian is grateful for not only the income and skills development opportunities but the support she has received from management at Discovery Kings Canyon. 

"Our HR lady, Paula, she's the best of the best. She asks us whenever she sees me how I am and to come and see her if I ever have a problem.

"Everyone here is friendly and kind. We all hang out together. It feels like we're still back at home,” said Lillian.

The sense of family and community is important, as some workers have made sacrifices to travel to Australia to earn skills and income.

To help with this, management at Kings Canyon organised a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony when the workers first arrived, led by Traditional Owner Vera, along with Lewis and Arnold from the local Lilla community. Māori staff members at Kings Canyon also performed a karanga.

“I was actually in tears. When they gave their speech, they really connected to what we came out from – our own culture. We had all our managers and our HR manager there," Cynthia said.

"We were so thankful to see them welcoming us with a warm heart. We are so grateful.

“That is what pushes us to do the best that we can, and be part of this great, great team that we have in Kings Canyon.”

*Workers at Discovery Kings Canyon are recruited, trained, and employed through Exact Labour Hire.