Farmers give PALM tick of approval

Agricultural groups have welcomed changes to the Pacific worker programs. Picture: FILE

Agricultural bodies have welcomed the latest government announcement of the first stage of reforms to Australia’s labour mobility programs, which include the Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) and the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP), which will make the programs more accessible to more businesses in the industry.

The announcement includes the development of the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) website, which will allow employers to apply to join the PLS and SWP through a single application, making it easier and less burdensome for growers to access workers through these programs.

This PALM aims to ensure the Pacific labour programs continue to meet critical worker shortages and remain the Australian Government’s leading workforce program into the future.

In addition, the SWP and PLS have become more flexible so they can better respond to the needs of employers and workers, by:

-Allowing PLS workers to be recruited in more locations across regional Australia by reducing postcode restrictions to better align with the SWP;

-Increasing the validity period for labour market testing from six months to 12 months, reducing red tape for employers;

-Doubling recruitment caps for SWP approved employers with a good record that also have financial capacity to support additional worker arrivals;

-Enabling accommodation businesses like hotels and resorts to employ SWP workers to support peak seasons in tourism across rural and regional Australia; and

-Allowing PLS workers who have spent three years in Australia to continue working for an additional 12 months while Covid-19 travel restrictions remain in place.

AUSVEG CEO Michael Coote said the vegetable industry welcomed the announcement from the Morrison Government, as these programs had been vital for growing businesses all over Australia to secure workers to harvest, pack and distribute crops.

“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,” Mr Coote said.

“This announcement is welcome recognition that streamlining the application process for these programs and reducing a little red tape will enhance the programs for the benefit of approved employers and workers.”

Since the SWP and PLS recommenced in September last year, more than 10,000 workers have arrived in Australia from participating countries.

This announcement will support the Australian Government’s commitment to bring an additional 12,500 workers by March next year.

“Harvest labour continues to be significant challenge for the sector, which has been estimated to reach up to 24,000 harvest workers in early 2022 for the coming peak harvest season,”Mr Coote said.

“As an industry, demand for harvest labour can increase drastically in a short space of time, so it is absolutely critical that we increase our quarantine capacity to be able to meet that demand for workers.

“As the summer season comes closer, demand for workers is increasing and we need to ensure we have adequate quarantine capacity to be able to bring in workers quickly and safely.”

Growcom’s advocacy manger Richard Shannon said the horticulture industry for some time, has been asking the government to streamline the processors to bring these two Pacific labour programs together.

”We are really grateful they’ve taken this step to bring these two programs together,” Mr Shannon said.

”There’s been employers operating under both programs for some time and needing to report to different Departments down in Canberra.

”That’s caused an amount of frustration over the years.

Hinkler MP Keith Pitt welcomed the changes to these programs, which local growers have used to ensure they have a reliable workforce.

“These measures will reduce red tape for employers as well as provide training opportunities for workers and fund initiatives to safeguard worker welfare,” Mr Pitt said.

“The PALM scheme website also has information for employers, community stakeholders and people in the Pacific and Timor-Leste considering work opportunities in Australia.

“A new skills program for workers to access training while in Australia to support worker development has been established and funding for initiatives that safeguard worker welfare has been extended.

“A new PALM Advisory Group has also been established to build on work done in recent years to grow Pacific labour mobility to the benefit of all stakeholders.”