Parishes give warm welcome to Pacific Islander workers
By Wendy Shaw
Each year, Pacific Islander seasonal workers are welcome additions at Catholic Masses throughout Tasmania.
Sometimes there are small numbers and at other times, they arrive by the busload.
They swell attendance figures and some become involved in music ministry and the wider parish community.
In turn, a number of parishes are actively engaged with welcoming the workers, providing advocacy and support, and hosting community events.
Representatives from some northern parishes, Launceston assistant priest Fr Chathura Ranmuni Silva and representatives of Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM), businesses, labour hire firms, government departments and community groups were among those who attended a recent meeting at the Launceston Catholic Parish Centre.
One of the aims of the meeting was to gain a better understanding of the workers’ situations and ways in which church and community groups can enhance the workers’ experiences while they are in the state.
This has been an issue close to the heart of Catholic parishioner Denise Talbot for the past five years, since Timor Leste workers employed on berry farms in the Northern Midlands area became part of the Kings Meadows Catholic parish family.
In 2019, the parish received a Missionary Sisters of Service grant to host a welcome party at Longford for seasonal workers, with support from the Northern Midlands Council. It was a great success with more than 400 workers and locals in attendance. It won the Northern Midlands Australia Day event of the year award.
Mrs Talbot, of Perth, is a warm and welcoming presence for the workers. She provides advocacy and support, hosts family meals and helps with finding warm clothes and even musical instruments.
“The meeting was about giving information, explaining who can be contacted from the [government] department if need be, and also how we can do some things better,” Mrs Talbot said after the Launceston meeting.
Fr Chathura, who is the Archdiocese of Hobart’s chaplain for migrants and refugees, said it was important to gain a better understanding of the seasonal workers and look at ways to welcome them to the local community.
He said that in the Launceston Parish, seasonal workers attend Masses particularly at St Finn Barr’s Church and the Church of the Apostles.
After the meeting, Fr Chathura said: “Sometimes they have to work, sometimes there is not transport available to those who would like to come to Mass. But sometimes they arrive in two buses.
“We now have a better idea of what to do for them and what they need. It has been agreed that there will be some buses for Sunday Masses. We will send them our Mass times and work out which Mass centre and which time would suit.
“I want to highlight that the seasonal workers are here to support us. They are here helping us by working on the farms so our responsibility is to make their lives easier. It is not that we are supporting them so much as they are here to help us.”
Fr Chathura said the Launceston Parish also helped with warm clothing for those workers who stayed on over winter.
“We are thinking of inviting the workers to a barbecue in the summer and getting them more involved in the Masses, such as with singing,” Fr Chathura added.
In Tasmania there are about 200 long-term workers here for between one and four years, and 4000-4500 seasonal workers, employed on vegetable and fruit farms. Workers come from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu to help fill labour gaps when there are not enough local workers available.