Government streamlines Pacific worker schemes

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Australia’s foreign worker schemes have had an overhaul – winning applause from industry groups

Government streamlines Pacific worker schemes
Changes to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme will improve protections for workers

 

Australia’s two major foreign labour schemes will be consolidated into a streamlined program to be overseen by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the federal government has announced.

The new Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme will combine the existing Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) once implemented in April 2022.

The combined scheme will set out to find solutions to the labour shortages faced by primary industries as a result of border restrictions over the past 18 months.

It will see more than 55,000 Pacific and East Timorese workers fill unskilled to semi-skilled jobs in rural and regional Australia, in fields such as agriculture.

Following initial reforms made to seasonal worker programs in September, the PALM scheme will also have new features to better improve protections for seasonal workers, the government says.

These include the option to extend the work period from three years up to four to give workers more time to develop the necessary skills, enable them to earn more income and provide greater stability for businesses.

Seasonal workers will have the option to apply for a longer-term visa onshore and will also be able to move between employers and businesses more easily to help meet workforce demand and maximise their own earnings. These arrangements are subject to consent by the workers and will be overseen by the government.

Places in the PALM scheme will remain uncapped, and demand driven.

Employers will also benefit from a streamlined administrative process, providing them with guidelines, an IT platform and greater engagement with the department.

Other resources available to both workers and employers under the PALM scheme include welfare and cultural services provided by the Pacific Labour Facility (PLF), education tools, an employee vetting process and a 24/7 helpline.

Well-supported

In its announcement, the department says "the single PALM scheme delivers on industry calls for a more streamlined and efficient approach to employing Pacific workers".

"It will help employers in rural and regional Australia more easily engage the right workers where and when they need them, while protecting the welfare of workers and delivering strong economic benefits for Pacific workers, their families and countries."

Peak industry bodies have also announced their support of the reforms, saying the improved scheme will help meet the demand of Australian businesses whilst also providing better protections for workers.

"Streamlining the application process for businesses to access workers under the consolidated PALM scheme will benefit workers and approved employers that can demonstrate a good record that also have financial capacity to support workers," says AUSVEG chief executive Michael Coote.

"These programs are designed to not only provide an adequate pool of willing workers for industry but support the proper treatment of workers and their communities. These reforms will make the PALM scheme more accessible and easier to navigate for both workers and approved employers.

"We welcome the announcement of the reforms and look forward to working with the government to ensuring that the PALM scheme meets the needs of workers and employers."

Similarly, Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie also voices her support.

"The industry continues to support strong worker protections underpinned by an active compliance and assurance program," says Mackenzie.

"The Pacific worker scheme has really shown its value to the sector during the pandemic and the funds workers have been able to send home have supported Pacific Nations devastated by a lack of tourists.

"The berry industry has relied heavily on these workers during the pandemic and those growers who had already set themselves up to participate in the scheme were at a definite advantage."

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