Laurel from Vanuatu working at Simfresh
The Australian Government has launched the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme – a new, streamlined approach to its two labour mobility programs: the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and the Palladium-managed Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS).
This is the first stage of reforms to Australia’s labour mobility programs, which will make them easier to access, protect worker welfare, and better meet the workforce needs of regional Australia.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific and Timorese workers have been the backbone of many regional businesses in Australia, ensuring that crops could be harvested, and meat could be processed,” notes Pacific Labour Facility (PLF) Team Leader Gavin Murray.
“The changes announced with the rebrand will bring immediate improvements, including greater access to Pacific and Timorese workers for new and existing employers, with associated benefits for partner countries in the region,” Murray adds.
The PALM scheme allows eligible employers in regional and rural Australia to recruit workers from 9 Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste, filling workforce shortages in agriculture, aged care, hospitality, and other sectors.
It also gives Pacific and Timorese workers an opportunity to learn new skills in Australia while saving money to support their families and communities back home.
For many Pacific Island countries, where local employment options are limited, labour mobility provides an important source of revenue. Remittances from workers have been used to build housing and community churches, to put children through education, and to start local businesses.
Laurel from Vanuatu works for Simfresh, a family-owned farming business in regional Australia that employs around 100 Pacific Island workers through the PLS. She said the savings she has earned from her job in Australia have had a positive impact on her family back home.
"The PLS will change your life. Because of the PLS, my family and my kids have shelter over their heads and have food. They can go to school. I'm so proud of myself," she says.
Though the PLS and the SWP will continue as separate programs under the PALM scheme, the single application process will allow for better alignment, offer greater flexibility for workers, and remove much of the red tape.
Supporting the Economy Through the Pandemic
Hundreds of workers from the Pacific and Timor-Leste have arrived in Australia in recent months, including a group of 80 workers from the Pacific nation of Kiribati. These were the first I-Kiribati workers to arrive under the Pacific Labour Scheme since the start of the pandemic.
After completing a 14-day quarantine in Queensland, some of them were deployed to Indigenous aged care homes in the remote Gulf Country, where staff shortages have been a problem, while others went to businesses in other parts of the state.
“A strong sense of community and respect for elders have made Pacific workers highly valued in Australian aged care facilities,” notes Alison Boundy, PLF’s Industry Engagement Manager – Aged Care and Social Sector.
“Their strong work ethic and hands on agricultural experience have also made them highly sought-after on farms and meat processing businesses across the country,” she adds.
At an aged care facility in Bowen on the Queensland coast, workers from the Pacific Islands have developed strong relationships with the residents.
Samoan Visor Auvele notes how important her role is, “I have a natural passion for the elderly. Just to give them a smile or to serve them a meal, to give them a good shower, to read them a book, or just to have us there for them to talk to is the greatest feeling ever. It’s a blessing for us to be here.”
Under the SWP, workers can be recruited for 9 months in agriculture and hospitality. Under the PLS, workers can be recruited in any industry for up to 3 years. Both programs help address workforce shortages in regional and rural Australia and provide employers with access to a pool of reliable, productive workers to meet their labour needs.
By providing Pacific and Timorese workers with jobs, income, and the chance to increase their skills, the programs also support the development of neighbouring countries, some of which have limited options for economic growth.
In April 2022, the two existing PALM initiatives - the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) - will be consolidated and operated under a single, improved PALM scheme. This new consolidated program will be managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. For more information, visit palmscheme.gov.au or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.