The peak industry organisation for vegetable and potato producers, AUSVEG, has backed the Federal Government’s announcement of the next step of reforms to the Pacific Australia Labor Mobility (PALM) initiative.
Earlier, the federal government announced that the recruitment process under the PALM scheme will be streamlined, which it claims will assist the programme in better handling staffing shortages and protecting workers.
Under the reforms, the two existing PALM initiatives – the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) – will be consolidated and operated under a single PALM scheme. It will commence in April 2022 and be managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
AUSVEG CEO Michael Coote said the vegetable industry welcomed the announcement from the government, as these reforms to consolidate the SWP and PLS schemes better meet the needs of workers and businesses in the Australian vegetable industry.
“The SWP and PLS are important labour programs for our industry, not just as a source of critical labour during the current labour shortages, but also as programs that prioritise workers’ welfare and allow our industry to develop close ties to our regional neighbours and support workers and their communities,” said Mr Coote.
“These programs form a critical component to addressing the significant labour shortages that continue to impact the industry, which has been estimated to reach up to 24,000 harvest workers in early 2022 for the coming peak harvest season.
“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 the financial capacity to support workers, said Mr Coote.
“These programs are designed to not only provide an adequate pool of willing workers for the 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.”
Other reforms to the PALM scheme include:
- Extending visa validity of up to four years will be permitted.
- Allowing seasonal workers to apply onshore for a longer-term visa, where they have been identified by their employer as suitable for ongoing, year-round or higher-skilled work.
- Allowing seasonal workers to move between employers more easily, which will better meet workforce needs and maximise their earnings – these arrangements will be subject to consent by workers and overseen by the Government, to ensure worker wellbeing is maintained.
Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) initiative
The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) initiative allows qualifying Australian businesses to hire labour from nine Pacific islands including Timor-Leste when there are not enough local workers available.
Eligible businesses can use the PALM scheme to hire employees for seasonal jobs lasting up to nine months or for longer-term roles lasting one to three years in unskilled, low-skilled, and semi-skilled positions.
“The PALM plan will continue to be uncapped and demand-driven. It will be the primary method of filling unskilled to semi-skilled labour shortages in rural and regional Australia, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne said in a joint statement.
“The government will focus closely on worker welfare and protections as the PALM scheme grows, to guarantee an active compliance and assurance program.
“The improved PALM scheme will feature new program and visa settings while providing strong worker protections and delivering streamlined processes and administrative efficiencies,” the Minister said.
These revisions expand on the initial set of reforms announced in September, which allowed companies to apply for both the PLS and the SWP through a single application, making it easier and less burdensome for producers to obtain labour under these programmes.
Further information about these reforms and other PALM scheme details can be found by visiting palmscheme.gov.au.