A FORMER high profile dual code football international is helping tackle the labour issue facing Australian agriculture.
Former Wallaby and Kangaroo Lote Tuqiri has become the new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) cultural ambassador for Agri Labour Australia, one of the nation's largest dedicated labour providers in the agricultural sector.
The PALM scheme was created by the federal government to support rural and regional Australian businesses by filling labour gaps and allowing them to access a pool of reliable workers from nine Pacific islands and Timor-Leste.
Agri Labour Australia's managing director Casey Brown said in the past 12 months his business had placed hundreds of PALM scheme participants across Australia, with 95 per cent of the workers wanting to return.
"Before COVID, Australia was already experiencing a severe labour shortage in the agricultural sector," Mr Brown said.
"Since early 2020, the situation has intensified and has left the agricultural sector at great risk.
"As a trusted partner to the sector, we are always looking at new ways we can support our clients and go that extra step in engaging with workers who take part in innovative programs such as PALM Scheme.
"Lote's involvement will make such a positive impact in connecting with workers, while Australian businesses are engaging with productive workers who can fulfill the nation's labour shortage needs."
Mr Brown said he was incredibly proud to have Tuqiri as part of the team to drive the program which connects, engages and promotes health, wellness, productivity and goals.
"We are thrilled to have Lote onboard," he said.
"His inspiring goal-driven story of moving to Australia to become a professional athlete and his passion to promote wellbeing activities so that PALM scheme workers are positively integrating into their new communities in Australia, further strengthens our existing program."
Tuqiri, who was born in Fiji, said it was a great honour to be given the title and he was looking forward to connecting and leading the extensive community engagement program for PALM scheme workers.
"From speaking with many of the workers and the communities, I know it can be very tough for them to leave their homes and families to come to a new country," Tuqiri said.
"However, I've been so happy to hear the great stories of how the new skills and income has made such a positive impact in allowing the workers the opportunity to send money home to support family, keep kids in school and help them set up new businesses back home.
"While it is a huge challenge for PALM scheme participants to leave their family for work in Australia, I'm dedicated to helping make this transition smoother and easier for them so they can reach their personal and professional goals."
Born in Korolevu, Fiji, Tuqiri moved with his family to Brisbane, Qld when he was 15 years old.
He represented Australia in both rugby league and rugby union, and Fiji in rugby league as a winger.
Since retiring from professional football, he has been is an active member of the Pacific Islander communities through his many sporting and business endeavours.
A PRIVATELY owned agribusiness that operates one of the largest poultry farms in Australia has praised the PALM scheme for significantly boosting its productivity.
Eliz Quinlan, human resources manager at DA Hall & Co, said through COVID, the business had a phenomenal change in labour source.
"We had a large community of backpackers but that has obviously changed considerably. The business would have been under considerable stress without PALM scheme," Ms Quinlan said.
"I think it is important to understand that everyone's life journey is different, everybody's challenges are different, sacrifices are different, and everyone's family structure is different.
"Lote's involvement will make a big difference and will go a long way to grow the workers' enthusiasm and courage to work through their own challenges."
Tuqiri will work closely with Agri Labour Australia's welfare officers who work closely with the PALM Scheme workers, businesses and local communities in regional and rural Australia.
The officers ensure workers are connected within their new community, linked to their churches and community groups, and provide ongoing training.
They also provide inductions and ongoing education around workplace, health and safety.
The engagement program extends from holding regular social events, quarterly awards, starting up local football groups to creating engaging new content and training.
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