Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program

Background to the program

In 2015, the Australian Government released its first White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, with a plan to promote the development of Northern Australia. One of the major challenges the paper highlighted was access to skilled labour.[1]

Northern Australia faces various challenges in attracting workers, including:

  • Industries in Northern Australia requiring flexible and mobile labour;
  • The significant personal and financial barriers for Australian workers to move to, and within, north Australia;
  • Economic and labour market conditions differing significantly both at regional and sub-regional level.[2]

Overview of the program

These challenges have led to the Australian government introducing a new pilot program called the Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program in 2015 to expand access to overseas workers, in order to address unmet labour demand. [3]

Through the program, employers from certain industries who cannot fill positions from the Australian labour market are able to recruit workers from the small Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu.[4]

How it works

Up to 250 citizens from Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati can obtain a three-year 403 Temporary Work (International Relations) visa to work in Northern Australia.[5]

Who has already signed up

One of the first companies to be part of the pilot program was the owner of the One&Only Hayman Great Barrier Reef resort, Mulpha International Bhd.[6]

Whilst the business performs strongly, Mulpha’s Executive General Manager, Allan Renkema highlighted the difficulty of getting good-quality, long-term staff to work in these remote locations.

The resort usually hires backpackers, hospitality trainees and interns, but these are short term labour solutions.[7] Now, 54 i-Kiribati workers are employed on Hayman and Hamilton Island in hospitality, and the business has called the program a success, reporting a more stable workforce and improved work culture.[8]

Who might benefit from it

Hence, the scheme has shown to be important for Australian businesses such as One&Only, who now have access to a long-term, reliable workforce, despite operating in remote/regional locations of Northern Australia.[9]

The program notably also benefits workers from the Pacific themselves, who have more opportunities to work, earn income for their families in the Pacific, and increase their skills and experience, which is otherwise often not available in their home countries.[10]

[1] Pacific Trade Invest, Bringing iKiribati Workers to Australia https://pacifictradeinvest.com/success-stories/export-success-stories/bringing-ikiribati-workers-to-australia/

[2] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Design Summary: Pastoral Care Support Services Program: Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program, https://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/pacific-microstates-pastoral-care-support-services-program-design-summary.pdf

[3] Australian Government: Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/g/files/net3906/f/June%202018/document/pdf/nawp-fullreport.pdf

[4] Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joint Media Release: Labour Mobility and the Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program: https://foreignminister.gov.au/speeches/Pages/2017/jb_sp_171124.aspx

[5] Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joint Media Release: Labour Mobility and the Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program: https://foreignminister.gov.au/speeches/Pages/2017/jb_sp_171124.aspx; Ministry of Employment and Human Resources, Kiribati: http://www.employment.gov.ki/index.php/overseas-employment/nawpp-australia

[6] Ministry of Employment and Human Resource Kiribati, Bringing I-Kiribati workers to Australia: http://www.employment.gov.ki/index.php/overseas-employment/nawpp-australia

[7] Pacific Trade Invest, Bringing iKiribati Workers to Australia https://pacifictradeinvest.com/success-stories/export-success-stories/bringing-ikiribati-workers-to-australia/

[8] Pacific Trade Invest, Bringing iKiribati Workers to Australia https://pacifictradeinvest.com/success-stories/export-success-stories/bringing-ikiribati-workers-to-australia/

[9] Minister for Foreign Affairs, Joint Media Release: Labour Mobility and the Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program: https://foreignminister.gov.au/speeches/Pages/2017/jb_sp_171124.aspx;

[10] Australian Government: Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/g/files/net3906/f/June%202018/document/pdf/nawp-fullreport.pdf; Nick Vol, DFAT Blog: https://blog.dfat.gov.au/2018/01/10/from-paradise-to-paradise-i-kiribati-workers-shine-on-hamilton/