METROPOLITAN meat processor access to the expanded Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme has been welcomed by the sector’s peak body.
And progress is also being made on employing Pacific Island workers in the shearing and wool industry, according to the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia.
However, the National Farmers Federation has reiterated its concerns about the level of assistance available to small businesses seeking to employ PALM workers independent of labour hire companies.
Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt today announced that PALM scheme access has been expanded scheme to metropolitan-based employers in select agriculture-related food manufacturing sectors.
“This means meat, seafood and fruit and vegetable processing employers in metropolitan areas can apply to be approved under the PALM scheme and employ PALM workers to fill labour shortages,” he said.
Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said the development was welcomed.
He said there is a concentration of processing and smallgoods capacity in metropolitan Australia that is also desperately needing people.
“I spoke to the Minister on this issue and AMIC has written to many other ministers and met with them on this issue, as have individual processors.
“We need; however, to make sure that we don’t harm regional processors with this outcome,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“We must make sure everyone is looked after as we move towards a normal, and then no doubt above average, livestock output over the next three years.”
Click here for the full AMIC statement.
Good progress for PALM workers to work in wool
SCAA secretary Jason Letchford said there were no longer any policy, visa upskilling or seasonal payment system hurdles to the training and employment of PALM workers, but placements were unlikely to occur before Spring 2023.
About 50 SCAA members had shown interest in the scheme, and several are working through PLF to become authorised employers or via labour hire agencies to employ workers. The application process is rigorous, including strict employer financial, worker accommodation and condition requirements, Mr Letchford said.
He said a group called the Pacific Labour Facility conducted a site visit of an SCAA member this week and the Falkiner Memorial Field Station near Deniliquin in New South Wales is being renovated to accommodate PALM workers for training, with the help of Australian Wool Innovation.
“The SCAA’s job then is, if they are not already allocated to employers, to facilitate that process of ensuring they go to the right employer.”
AWI is refurbishing the accommodation quarters at Falkiner to be ready by the end of January 2023. The accommodation will be used for a range of training workshops, including for PALM workers.
AWI chief executive officer John Roberts said AWI continues to explore a range of options to attract and retaining wool harvesting staff.
“The PALM program is one of these and we are committed to training and support of this initiative.”
Federal Government also delivering fee-free TAFE and VET places
Mr Watt said the newly formed Tripartite Agricultural Workforce Working Group was briefed on the PALM progress at its third meeting, at NFF House in Canberra yesterday.
“We know that there are some long-standing issues with the agriculture workforce that emerged over successive governments and they will take time to resolve.
“But it’s pleasing to see progress being made to deliver the workers industry needs and the protections those workers deserve,” he said.
“We now have the highest ever number of PALM scheme workers in the country, with more than 33,700 workers in Australia right now.
“That’s an increase of 2000 just since the end of October and another 40,000 Pacific workers have been pre-screened as suitable,” Mr Watt said.
Mr Watt said the Albanese Government is also making it a priority to grow the amount of skilled local workers being trained for careers in agriculture.
“Already, through the great work of Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor, we will deliver around 13,000 new fee-free TAFE and VET places for students in agriculture courses across the country,” he said.
NFF welcomes PALM scheme expansion “with caution”
The National Farmers Federation today welcomed with caution the Federal Government’s announcement that it will allow metropolitan-based food businesses to access workers under the PALM Scheme.
National Farmers’ Federation president and horticulture council chair Fiona Simson said while resolving shortages along the supply chain was important, the government now needed to dial up efforts to deepen the pool of available workers.
“We absolutely acknowledge that the full food supply chain is suffering worker shortages, and it’s right to try and meet those needs.
“But this move should not come at a net cost to farmers, who have been feeling the pinch of these shortages most acutely over several years,” she said.
“Spreading an insufficient pool of workers thinner won’t solve anyone’s problem.
“But if that’s the plan, it needs to be coupled with measures to deepen the pool by attracting more workers and removing barriers to participation,” she said.
“So far, despite the promises, we’ve seen very little progress on that front.
“The government’s election promise to cover travel costs of Pacific workers would have done exactly that, but sadly that’s no longer on the table.”
“What we need is a concerted effort to make it easier for small farming businesses to access the PALM by simplifying the bureaucracy that surrounds it.
“Investment in support services for farmers trying to access the scheme would go a long way,” Ms Simson said.
“Family farmers who don’t have the same in-house migration experts as the big end of town need that support if we’re going to see widespread uptake of the PALM.
“We also need to see progress as we head into 2023 on the promise to open the scheme to Vietnamese workers,” she said.
“If successful, that would be the first meaningful step forward in the farm workforce crisis in years.
“Today’s announcement is yet another sideways step,” Ms Simson said.
“Once again, the farm workforce has taken a hit in aid of government’s broader policy ambitions.”
For more information on the Agricultural Workforce Working Group visit Agricultural Workforce Working Group – DAFF (agriculture.gov.au)