From a slow start in 2008, Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) has become a growing source of employment in the Pacific and Timor-Leste, and an important part of the seasonal workforce for Australian farmers.

While research has demonstrated the benefits of the SWP for both workers and farmers, less is known about how the program is governed, especially in sending countries, and about the determinants of national participation. This report analyses these issues, and recommends ways to improve SWP governance, both in Australia and in the sending countries, with the objective of promoting the sustainable growth of seasonal labour mobility from the Pacific into Australia. It is the culmination of years of research, including fieldwork undertaken over nine years in 11 countries.

The report begins with how the SWP operates in Australia, the characteristics of the employers who use it, and a comparison of the SWP to New Zealand’s equivalent, the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. The report then turns to an analysis of SWP participation across sending countries, and to an explanation of why some countries have done better than others. Detailed case studies of the three biggest SWP sending countries – Vanuatu, Tonga and Timor-Leste – are then presented. While most of the research in this report was undertaken prior to the closure of international borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concluding section of the report reflects on the current situation, and its implications.

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