CANBERRA - Allowing unskilled workers into Australia would prompt a "flood" of Pacific Islanders arriving by boat, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says.
Labor is reportedly considering a guest worker scheme under which Pacific islanders could come to Australia temporarily to help ease critical labour shortages in the agricultural sector.
They would likely work as seasonal fruit-pickers or in similar occupations and could send their wages back to their struggling home countries.
The National Farmers Federation (NFF) has been lobbying the government for 18 months to provide short-term visas for guest workers.
The World Bank also has urged Canberra to adopt a guest worker scheme to help out Pacific nations that are struggling with high unemployment rates.
But Mr Andrews today said allowing in unskilled Pacific Islanders would not alleviate labour shortages.
Instead, it would undercut wages and conditions.
"This irresponsible policy would inevitably result in a flood of illegal boat arrivals heading to Australia," Mr Andrews said in a statement.
"The Australian government will not support any scheme that would allow unskilled workers to flood the country and threaten the wages and condition of Australian working families."
Mr Andrews said the government's temporary migration programme only permitted skilled migrants to enter Australia and there were no plans to extend this to unskilled seasonal workers.
However, on August 8 Foreign Minister Alexander Downer suggested the government was keeping its options open about allowing in unskilled Pacific island labour.
"I know that New Zealand has started a seasonal labour scheme to allow Pacific island workers to fill some rural jobs. We will be watching the results of this program closely to see how effective it is and how well it works," Mr Downer said.
Pacific nations have long called for their workers to be allowed into Australia to perform temporary unskilled jobs.
Comment has been sought from Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke and Opposition aid spokesman Bob McMullan.
- AAPBy David Crawshaw