Mary Apoiliu is a mother of two young daughters in Samoa, aged seven and four months old.
- Forty-four workers from the Pacific Islands will fill a severe worker shortage in the aged care and hospitality sectors
- They have arrived in Central Australia under the federal government’s Pacific Labour Scheme
- The NT Chamber of Commerce says the scheme will not take jobs from locals
Although she loves the tropical beaches of the Pacific Islands, she has just moved to the Central Australian desert so that she can provide for her extended family of eight people back at home.
“I have to come to Australia to give them the life they deserve and make them happy,” Ms Apoiliu said.
“They miss me. I’m the eldest of all the kids, so being the eldest, you have to be the core of the family.
Ms Apoiliu is one of 44 people from nine countries in the Pacific Islands and Timor Leste who arrived in Alice Springs this week to fill severe staff shortages across Central Australia.
Three-quarters of the new arrivals will work in the aged and disability care sector across Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine, while the remaining 11 workers will be employed in tourism and hospitality at DoubleTree by Hilton in Alice Springs.
They have come to Australia through the federal government’s Pacific Labour Scheme, which is advertised as a solution to staff shortages in Australia where there are not enough local workers available as well as a means of supporting the economic growth of neighbouring countries.
Under the scheme, the new arrivals can work in Australia for a period of between one to three years.
“It’s been a mammoth effort with all involved getting these workers here,” the NT Chamber of Commerce’s business development manager, Ronan Mackay, said.
“We’re only scratching the surface at the moment.
“There are plenty of jobs still available out there for the local job seekers. It’s just about putting a small plug in that hole and trying to look to see how we can help the regions across the Northern Territory with their workforce needs.”
Worker shortage reaching crisis point during pandemic
The Pacific Labour Scheme started in 2018 but during the pandemic has become one solution to a crippling lack of staff in industries that have traditionally relied upon backpackers and workers from interstate.
“Over the last year it has really come to almost a crisis,” the chamber of commerce’s chief operating officer, Nicole Walsh, said.
The hotel manager of DoubleTree by Hilton in Alice Springs, Lisa Goode, said getting 11 new staff members through the scheme was a “game changer”.
“With the uptick in domestic tourism but the fact that we don’t have any of the backpacker market, which has traditionally been a large labour source for hospitality in Alice Springs, we have struggled to get qualified workers with at times up to 20 to 30 vacancies,” Ms Goode said.
“Most importantly, our existing employees — who during this period have worked enormous amounts of hours and have really been dedicated and given their all — will get a well-deserved break.”
Sharing culture and Samoan hospitality
Bill Ahuafi Itake said it was not a difficult decision to leave Samoa and come to Australia to work.
Mr Ahuafi Itake said he and his fellow workers passed the time in hotel quarantine at the Howard Springs facility in Darwin by doing zumba classes to “keep everyone happy” and “avoid thinking of back home”.
He said he was looking forward to bringing his skills in the hospitality industry to his new job in Alice Springs.
NT Minister for Small Business Paul Kirby said all of the new workers had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and all that would be working in the aged care sector were fully vaccinated.
Mr Kirby said the industry covered the costs of flights for the new workers, and the NT government assisted with paying for quarantine, which cost $2,500 per worker.