Pacific Island horticulture worker cap removed

FARMERS in the horticulture sector will be able to access more seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands, after the Abbott government removed caps on worker numbers.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz announced the lifting of the sector's previous cap of 2000 yesterday, but the overall 12,000-place limit on the Pacific Seasonal Worker Program would not change.

The policy change follows a World Bank report released earlier this week that found backpackers and the use of illegal workers were undermining demand for Pacific workers.

While the program allows up to 12,000 Pacific Islanders and Timor-Leste residents to work in Australia for six months, the horticulture program has failed to fill the 2000 places originally made available when it started five years ago.

But Senator Abetz said the "commonsense change" was made after the government listened to "community concerns".

He said it would stay "demand-driven" and employers would have to "exhaust" the local job market before recruiting overseas.