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Labors PALM changes risks less pay for Australian farm workers

Farmers and industry fear Labor’s imminent updates to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility
(PALM) Scheme could result in workers from nine Pacific Island countries and Timor Leste
permanently receiving better pay conditions in some circumstances than Australian farm
workers, placing an undue burden on employers.
Leader of The Nationals David Littleproud said Labor needs to address disparities in new
PALM guidelines, likely to be released this month.
Labor previously made changes in 2023 but is now due to update them, which industry fears
risks cementing some elements that could be harmful.
Mr Littleproud said farmers were anxiously awaiting Labor’s release of the new guidelines,
as there are serious inconsistencies with industrial relations rules when it comes to ‘stand
down’ guidelines and makes it more expensive for employers.
“Australian workers are occasionally ‘stood down’ temporarily as part of their enterprise
agreement (EA) and because of this, they can be paid a higher hourly rate,” Mr Littleproud
said.
“This is common in places such as abattoirs when there is no stock or if a processing plant
requires maintenance. So Australian and migrant workers aren’t paid during a stand down
because they can earn the higher hourly rate to cover them.
“On the other hand, new guidelines for PALM workers indicate they must be paid regardless
of a stand down. The oversight means that PALM workers risk receiving greater conditions,
i.e. pay, than Australian and migrant workers performing the same job in the same
scenario.”
Summer Fruit CEO Trevor Ranford said the changes were unrealistic and will continue to put
upward pressure on the cost of production and cost of living pressures.
“Farmers are telling me they cannot afford the new regulations coming through and they
will walk away from PALM and some are even considering walking away from growing fruit
altogether,” Mr Ranford said.
“Farmers will be forced to move towards backpackers and more transient workers and are
already planning to do so. Otherwise, you’re paying for workers that might do two hours of
work a day but you pay them for seven, as an example, for a stand down. No one can afford that. If you have to pay someone for not working, the hours should then be owed. If that
doesn’t happen, the PALM program will fall apart.”
Approved Employers of Australia executive officer Steve Burdette said the Albanese
Government implemented changes to the PALM scheme that have created confusion,
uncertainty and angst for Australian and migrant workers and their employers.
“Changes to minimum earnings, employer responsibility for transport and accommodation,
leave requirements, and accommodation processes, are increasing the costs of running the
program and decreasing employment opportunities for Pacific workers,” Mr Burdette said.
“We must return to practical and pragmatic solutions that can actually be implemented and
improve outcomes for workers.”
Mr Littleproud added a future Coalition government would reinstate the AgVisa.
“This year, farmers will also be forced to offer a minimum of 30 hours per week, over four
weeks, to PALM workers. They will then be forced to offer 30 hours per week, every week,
from July 1, 2024. This is despite agriculture work being seasonal and weather dependent.
“The PALM Scheme has the potential of just 42,000 workers and is now even more
unattractive for farmers to sign up to. The result will be farmers will choose to plant less
driving up prices at the checkout.
“Without the AgVisa, Labor’s policy settings will gradually suffocate Australia’s world-
leading agriculture industry and reduce domestic production and supply, driving up costs.”

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