Labour schemes reforms easier access and more protection
The first stage of reforms to Australia's labour mobility programs – the Pacific Australia Labour (PALM) Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program (SWP), have been announced. These changes are intended to make the programs easier to access, protect worker welfare, and better meet the workforce needs of regional Australia.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific and Timorese workers have been the lifeblood of many regional businesses, ensuring meat could be processed and crops could be harvested.
According to the Morrison Government the centrepiece of these new reforms is a single streamlined application process for both the PALM and SWP offering more flexibility and less red tape.
This will ensure the Pacific labour programs continue to meet critical worker shortages.
Eligible approved employers will also have their status recognised for both programs. The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) website has been established for employers to apply to join the PALM and SWP through a single application.
In addition, the SWP and PALM have become more aligned and flexible so they can better respond to the needs of employers and workers, by:
Allowing PALM 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 6 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.
Allowing PALM workers who have spent three years in Australia to continue working for an additional 12 months while COVID-19 travel restrictions remain in place.
Continuing the existing COVID-related flexibilities which allow redeployments of workers to another approved employer, subject to labour market testing and welfare considerations, and the ability to extend their stay onshore.
Removing the upper age limit of 45 years for PALM workers, aligning with the age criteria for the SWP, to allow all workers over the age of 21 to participate.
These changes should deliver immediate improvements.
A new PALM Advisory Group yet to be set up, will bring together stakeholders to help ensure the scheme is of benefit to all stakeholders, and sector subcommittees will be established for agriculture, meat processing and for the care sectors.
The changes also include support for workers to facilitate upskilling and career development with a new skills development program to allow workers to gain certificate level qualifications while working in Australia.
This is the first phase of reforms to the PALM and SWP, with further measures to be announced later this year.
Since the PALM and SWP recommenced in September last year, more than 10,600 Pacific and Timorese workers have arrived from participating countries. The changes announced will support the Australian Government's commitment to bring an additional 12,500 workers to Australia by March next year, with 27,000 workers already in the work-ready pool. Only existing employers under the PALM can access it and new employers will be able to apply from April 2022.