How COVID-19 has seen this group of ni-Vanuatu workers move from tourism to citrus farming

COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions have led to a lot of changes for this group of ni-Vanuatu tourism workers. They've been redeployed to work in the horticulture industry, which is still facing labour shortages, and are now picking mandarins, lemons and limes at Simfresh in Monduran, south-east Queensland.

A ni-Vanuatu worker wearing high-vis clothing stands on a ladder with his arms above his head, picking citrus fruit from a tree. He has a smile on his face.

Redeployed into horticulture sector

A lot has changed for this group of ni-Vanuatu Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) tourism and hospitality workers over the past few months.  

When coronavirus arrived in Australia, they were employed at a holiday resort – but travel restrictions and lockdowns meant they were redeployed into jobs in the horticulture sector, which is still facing labour shortages in regional areas. 

Taking on new roles at citrus farms owned by Simfresh in Monduran, south-east Queensland has helped the men continue to earn an income so they can support their families and communities back home. 

One worker, Stanley Pantutun, said thedecided early on to “flow with whatever happened”, and are grateful for the opportunity to pick mandarinsgrapefruit, limes and lemons, prune trees and help with general farm duties at Simfresh. 

Finding creative ways to connect with community

The team has been taking COVID-19 measures very seriously, washing their hands frequently and practising social distancing at work and at home. While keeping their distance, they have also been finding creative ways to connect with their community.  

“There are roadworkers outside our house – we speak and laugh with them daily, but just from a distance. We offered them food from across the road, Stanley said.

Video calls have also helped them to stay connected to their families and friends in Vanuatu and to reassure their loved ones that they are fine, said another worker, Kensie Wogale. 

“Every day my family calls to check on me. Every day I say I’m ok, I’m in a safe place … I’m ok.” 

‘We all support each other and listen to each other’

Knox Taleo, another member of the team, said that their bond as a group has been getting them through the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis

“We all support each other and listen to each other. When I’ve got my boys with me, we can do anything together, he said. 

Farm manager, Josh Dasecke has been impressed with the group’s positivity and how quickly they have adapted to their new roles. 

“They’re good to laugh with, and every time you arrive at the orchard you hear laughing – they’re just a happy bunch of lads and we couldn’t be happier with them,” Josh said.  

“They’ve picked it up well and it’s been a very good result. They came in eager to work, and the mandarin season has never been this smooth.

If we didn’t get those 6 boys in, we wouldn’t have gotten through everything we have been able to do this year.” 

At this stage, the workers are all looking to stay in Australia for their entire 3-year PLS contract, as long as they can continue to help fill roles in businesses where labour might be in short supply. 

“It’s very different on the farm but we really, really enjoy it!” said team leader Anory Roslyn. “I love this job!” 

(Location is indicative to the nearest town)
A ni-Vanuatu worker wearing high-vis clothing picks citrus fruit from a tree. He has a smile on his face.