Regulating Pacific Seasonal Labour in Australia

Pacific Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 2, pp. 283-305, 2010

24 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2010 Last revised: 26 May 2011

See all articles by Therese MacDermott

Therese MacDermott

Macquarie University

Brian Opeskin

University of Technology Sydney

Date Written: April 20, 2010


In 2008 the Australian Government announced a new labour mobility scheme for Pacific workers, with the objective of meeting seasonal demand for low skilled labour in the horticulture industry and promoting economic development in Pacific Island Countries. Modelled on New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, it is a significant departure from Australia’s long-standing preference for permanent migration that is non-discriminatory with respect to the country of origin. Any temporary migration programme that draws a workforce from developing countries has the potential to exploit vulnerable foreign workers, but the long term success of Australia’s pilot program makes it imperative that seasonal workers from the Pacific are not exposed to that danger. This article examines why the responsibility for protecting Pacific workers falls largely on Australia’s regulatory framework governing workplace relations, and how those laws, policies and processes can meet that challenge. Equality laws, occupational health and safety principles, dispute settlement procedures, and trade union involvement all form part of an institutional network that can assist this highly visible scheme to meet the expectations of participants both in Australia and in the Pacific.

Keywords: Labour mobility, seasonal workers, temporary migration, Australia, Pacific Islands, workplace regulation, protection of migrant workers, discrimination, dispute resolution

Suggested Citation

MacDermott, Therese and Opeskin, Brian, Regulating Pacific Seasonal Labour in Australia (April 20, 2010). Pacific Affairs, Vol. 83, No. 2, pp. 283-305, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Therese MacDermott

Macquarie University ( email )

North Ryde
Sydney, New South Wales 2109

Brian Opeskin (Contact Author)

University of Technology Sydney ( email )

Faculty of Law
University of Technology Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales 2007
+61-2-95149670 (Phone)


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