THE trial scheme to bring guest workers from Pacific Islands to help pick fruit is still on track despite delays in getting it up and running.
That's the view of peak farm groups as grower frustration bubbles over in the Swan Hill and Griffith regions where the scheme is being trialled initially.
It is understood the scheme, which was announced in August last year, will start within the next month once decisions have been made on which labour hire companies will be used.
The first 100 guest workers were originally expected to arrive before the end of last year in time for peak harvest activity.
A spokeswoman for Employment Minister Julia Gillard said the scheme was in the "final stages" of implementation, but in the end its success would depend on grower demand for guest workers.
"The arrival of seasonal workers is dependent on appropriate administrative arrangements being in place,'' she said.
"As part of the assessment and selection of the labour hire companies the Government has required a detailed assessment of potential providers in order to ensure the highest standards are met."
But the scheme was "demand-driven", she said. "If there is no demand from horticultural employers for labour, then no Pacific Island workers will be recruited."
Coalition immigration spokeswoman and northern Victorian MP Dr Sharman Stone accused the government of bungling the scheme's introduction and said the scheme could be left to wither because of the economic downturn.
But the Horticulture Australia Council said the scheme was a “complex undertaking'' and the Christmas-New Year break had frustrated the best efforts of bureaucrats to finalise the administrative arrangements.
HAC chairman Stuart Swaddling said the tendering process for labour hire companies in particular had taken time, but it was important all the appropriate standards and probity checks were done.
"In the best interests of both the growers and the workers, we can afford to wait another week or so in order to ensure success."
National Farmers' Federation chief executive Ben Fargher said growers keen to get extra labour at peak picking times had been frustrated by the delays.
"But they've got to remember it's only a pilot scheme at this stage and it's crucial that we get the details right,'' he said.
"Understandable frustrations should not be allowed to undermine the long-term success of the scheme.''
Under the three-year trial, up to 2500 temporary work visas for seven months in a year will be offered to workers from Kiribati, Tonga, Vanuatu and PNG.
Growers who can't find enough local workers can participate, while labour hire companies will be used to recruit and place guest workers.