The Australian Government’s Seasonal Worker Programme.

Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

Hiring a reliable seasonal workforce through the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) has captured the interest of Queensland horticulture producers and the rest of Australia.

The SWP offers employers in the agriculture sector access to a reliable, returning workforce when there is not enough local Australian labour.

Seasonal workers benefit from the opportunity to earn Australian wages and gain valuable on-the-job learning opportunities.

Many seasonal workers use the money earned in Australia to pay for their kids’ education, start a small business or build a house. For the workers and their families, this is a life-changing opportunity.

The SWP, managed by the Department of Jobs and Small Business (DJSB)  supports Pacific Island nations and Timor-Leste to fill shortages in regional and remote areas, and at the same time learn technical skills they can take back home.

Employers already participating in the SWP praise the productivity and work ethic of their Pacific Island workers (See case study, Hillwood Berries).

The benefits of being involved in the SWP are becoming widely recognised by Australian farmers, and it is proving to be a valuable alternative labour source to add to growers’ employment mix of locals and backpackers.

In turn, the number of recruitments is increasing across established and less-established labour-sending countries.

Tonga and Vanuatu remain the largest providers of workers under the SWP but the participation of other countries continues to increase.

In 2017/8 Australian employers hired 8,457 workers from the following Pacific Islands;

  •  Vanuatu                     3, 348 workers
  • Tonga                          2, 790
  • Timor-Leste              914
  • Samoa                        527
  • Kiribati                      364
  • Fiji                              247
  • Solomon Islands      175
  • Papua New Guinea 92

Nonetheless, there are still many Australian farmers who have not heard about the SWP or taken the first step to trial the Programme.

Changes to Labour-Hire Law

Recent changes in labour-hire licencing legislation is likely to generate greater demand for workers through the SWP.


New labour-hire licencing legislation came into place in Queensland in April 2018 and by 15 June 2018, over 1,000 applications were lodged by labour-hire contractors.

At the launch, Queensland Minister for Education and Industrial Relations, the Honourable Minister Grace, indicated that labour-hire workers in Queensland would now have increased protection in a regulated industry where non-compliant employers will be held accountable.

“These laws will enhance Queensland’s reputation as a great place to work, including for backpackers and migrant workers who follow the seasonal harvest trail around the state. All labour-hire providers operating in Queensland need to be licensed under the scheme, including those based interstate or overseas, who supply workers in Queensland. Be warned, if you provide labour-hire services in Queensland without a licence or try to avoid your responsibilities, you may face jail time, a hefty fine or your license may be cancelled,” said Minister Grace.

Providing labour-hire services without a licence after 15 June 2018 – or entering into an arrangement with a provider who does not hold a labour-hire service licence – could result in a fine of up to $378,450.00 for a corporation, $130,439.00 for individuals, or three years imprisonment.


On 20 June 2018, the Victorian Parliament also passed legislation implementing labour-hire licensing requirements. This makes Victoria the third state to do so, following the introduction of similar laws in Queensland and South Australia.

If you are looking for reliable seasonal labour and want to become a SWP Approved Employer, or to secure workers through a licenced labour-hire contractor who is already an Approved Employer, visit:

Case Study Hillwood Berries

Hillwood Berries in Tasmania joined the SWP four years ago, through a labour hire company in the first year, and then becoming a SWP Approved Employer themselves through the Department of Jobs and Small Business (DJSB), formally the Department of Employment.

Hillwood Berries initially employed seasonal workers from Tonga, then this season recruitment included Timor-Leste and Kiribati.

‘The Seasonal Worker Programme is a really wonderful labour resource. SWP workers coming back every season is a major plus.

“Less training is needed and in the second season the SWP workers hit the ground running from the day they arrive.

“They are dedicated and here under contract for six months. It has definitely helped to improve productivity on the farm’, said Sue Williams, Seasonal Worker Program and Accommodation Manager at Hillwood Berries.

 ‘Now that the DJSB has made the process to become an SWP Approved Employer much simpler, Tasmanian farms are starting to come on board. The Programme is fantastic, it is a win-win for all’, Sue said.