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.
Agriculture minister 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 Patrick Hutchinson said the development was welcomed.
He said there was a concentration of processing and smallgoods capacity in metropolitan Australia that was 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.”
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.
NFF president 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)