First planeload of mango pickers from Vanuatu lands in Darwin today

The charter flight from Vanuatu is expected to touch down about 9am.
The charter flight from Vanuatu is expected to touch down about 9am.

More than 160 mango pickers from Vanuatu will land in Darwin this morning.

After frantic last minute diplomatic negotiations between the Australian and Vanuatu governments, an NT Farmers charter flight is bringing the workers in to save a valuable harvest worth $100 million going to waste.

It is estimated about 1000 workers are needed for the harvest, a call has been made to local people to help with the harvest which has already started and continues through to November.

The new arrivals will immediately enter a 14-day quarantine at Howard Springs because of the Territory's coronavirus travel restrictions.

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"The touch down of this plane is a culmination of over four months of tough negotiations and hard work by NT Farmers with eight Commonwealth and Territory government departments and the Government of Vanuatu," NT Farmers Association CEO Paul Burke said.

"NT Farmers recognise the outstanding support provided by all levels of government and industry to bring these seasonal workers here.

"The Job Shop also contributed enormously in arranging workers and logistics for the program.

"This is an outstanding example of government and industry proactively working together for the benefit of Territorians, the economy and seasonal workers."

The reinstated pilot program of seasonal workers is the first in Australia and is paving the way for how the national agricultural industry responds to COVID workforce restrictions.

The NT grows half the mangoes in Australia, and most of those in the Katherine region.

The NT grows half the mangoes in Australia, and most of those in the Katherine region.

Traditionally the mango harvest relies heavily on Pacific Island programs and international backpackers.

Annually, between 2000 and 2500 mango harvest workers from regions that include Timor-Leste, Fiji, Vanuatu and other Asian/Pacific nations, come to the NT through either the Seasonal Worker Program or the Pacific Labour Scheme.

"The industry needs employees; seasonal workers are one important component of the agricultural workforce," Mr Burke said.

Extensive social media promotions and numerous information sessions have been implemented to target locals interested in joining the industry.

It is hoped this first planeload of seasonal workers will be followed by others to help fill the workforce gap to ensure fresh produce is harvested and delivered to consumers.

"These workers are saving the industry by travelling to the Territory and harvesting our valuable produce," Mr Burke said.

"NT Farmers thanks Ni-Vanuatu workers for traveling here and contributing to the NT economy."

The NT's mango farms have also instituted strong COVID management plans.

"NT Farmers are pleased to help deliver this Australia first program. We will continue to work with all stakeholders to deliver subsequent flights for industry and the Territory economy," Mr Burke said.

This story First planeload of mango pickers from Vanuatu lands in Darwin today first appeared on Katherine Times.