Reforming Pacific Australia Labour Mobility

By Stephen Howes and Evie Sharman

October 2022

This submission responds to three of the four headings provided in the terms of reference for the PALM reform consultation. It makes 13 recommendations:

1: Diversifying across sending countries. Introduce incentives and mechanisms to increase the supply of PALM workers, absolutely and proportionately, from PNG, Timor Leste, Solomon Islands and Kiribati.

2: Reducing exploitation for all migrant workers. As per government policy, fully implement the recommendations of the 2019 Report of Migrant Workers’ Taskforce.

3: PALM-specific measures to improve worker welfare. Promote PALM worker welfare by: (i) making all contract information available in the worker’s language; (ii) setting a floor on workers’ take-home pay; (iii) requiring employers to publicly and in writing reassure workers that complaints are welcome and will not be used against them or impact their employment; (iv) obtaining worker feedback through regular, confidential surveys, both scheme-wide and employer-specific; (v) encouraging employers to build suitable accommodation for their workers; and (vi) mandating sending countries to place at least one liaison officer in Australia once their number of workers reaches a certain minimum.

4: To reduce absconding (i) implement the recommendations to improve worker welfare (see Recommendation 3); (ii) speed up processing times for onshore protection claims; and (ii) crackdown on employers who hire migrant workers illegally, with increased funding for compliance activities by the Australian Border Force and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

5: Single administration. Pacific labour mobility should be administered by a single government department.

6: To improve data and dialogue: (i) commission annual or biannual surveys of PALM employers and workers; (ii) make anonymised PALM data available to researchers directly and automatically from government, and place non-anonymised data into the key Australian Government data integration products; (iii) publish six-monthly reports on the PALM schemes; and (iv) support an annual conference in Australia, similar to the RSE conference, to analyse and discuss practice and problems.

7: Family accompaniment principles. Family accompaniment policy development should begin with a statement of principles, emphasising the harm of mandated family separation, and recognising that the principal decision maker regarding family accompaniment should be the family concerned. Any pilot phase in which the application of these principles would be limited should be clearly defined as such, and be time-bound.

8: Family accompaniment implementation. After the initial pilot phase, unless the employer has a justified objection (see Recommendation 9), PLS workers without children should be free to bring their partner to Australia, and PLS workers with children should be free to bring their family provided they can access free schooling. Extensive effort must be put into ensuring PLS workers are in a position to make informed choices. Consider the recommendations of the National Advocacy Group on Women on Temporary Visas Experiencing Violence.

9: The role of employers in family accompaniment. After the pilot phase, employers should only be allowed to mandate family separation on reasonable grounds, agreed to by government.

10: Family accompaniment and permanency. The option of family accompaniment should not be restricted to those PLS workers who are on a pathway to permanency.

11: Pathways to permanency should be made available and promoted. DFAT should encourage interested meat industry employers to pilot the existing PLS-to-TSS pathway for meatworkers. Aged care workers should not be recruited through the PLS until a pathway to permanency for such workers has been created. Exemptions for PALM workers to TSMIT requirements should be considered.

12: Increasing portability. A Joint Approval to Recruit mechanism, based on the New Zealand model, should be added to the SWP.

13: Relaxing geographical restrictions. Postcode restrictions should be removed for meat processing. Subsequent reforms should consider removing all postcode restrictions from the PLS.

Howes, S. & Sharman, E. 2022, Reforming Pacific Australia Labour Mobility, Development Policy Centre, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, Canberra.

Karen Downing

Karen Downing is Research Communications Coordinator at the Development Policy Centre.