National Farmers' Federation

Spreading PALM workforce thinner is another sideways step

Farmers have welcomed with caution the Government’s announcement that it will allow metropolitan-based food businesses to access workers under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) Scheme.

National Farmers’ Federation 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.

“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. 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. 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. 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. Once again, the farm workforce has taken a hit in aid of government’s broader policy ambitions,” Ms Simson concluded.