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Changes to PALM scheme and new protections for migrant workers

3 August 2023
Changes to PALM scheme and new protections for migrant workers

The Australian Government has announced a number of changes to the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, as well as new protections for migrant workers.

Labour hire providers and hosts who employ migrant workers should be aware of the changes, to ensure they continue to meet their obligations.

Changes to the PALM Scheme

A range of labour hire workers are employed under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme, which is overseen by the federal Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR).

The program enables approved employers to recruit workers from Pacific nations for seasonal employment, where there may be a shortage of workers in regional or rural Australia.

The Australian Government announced changes to the PALM scheme Approved Employer Deed and Guidelines, to take effect over the next 12 months, as part of the 2023-24 Federal Budget.

The changes affect minimum weekly pay, hours of work, and accommodation, so it’s important to be aware of the new obligations if you are a PALM employer.

Key changes

Minimum hours

Currently, approved employers must offer short-term workers 30 hours of work per week, averaged over the worker’s placement.

From 1 October 2023, or date of arrival of new recruits (whichever is earlier):

  • approved employers must offer full-time hours to long-term workers
  • if an approved employer can only offer less than 20 hours of work a week, they must pay the worker’s accommodation and transport costs.

From 1 January 2024, 30 hours of work per week must be offered, averaged over four weeks, changing to 30 hours offered every week from 1 July 2024.

The new Guidelines allow for some exceptional circumstances, including extreme weather events, that may prevent approved employers from meeting these minimum hours of work.

Pay, accommodation and transport

Approved employers are now required to pay PALM workers in line with other similarly skilled and experienced workers at the same workplace. Evidence of this pay parity must be provided and maintained over the course of the worker’s PALM employment.

This includes a minimum take-home pay guarantee for all PALM workers of $200 a week.

PALM employers must also provide explanations to workers on deductions that will be made from their pay, and training on what information is included on their pay slip.

Approved employers must provide short-term workers with accommodation for the full duration of their PALM contract, and for the first 12 months of a long-term worker’s PALM contract.

Further changes

There are a range of other changes to the PALM scheme in the new Approved Employer Deed and Guidelines, including around welfare and wellbeing, cultural competency and grievance management.

The DEWR website has more information about the changes to the PALM scheme Approved Employer Deed and Guidelines, frequently asked questions about the changes, and how to become a PALM scheme approved employer.

Expanded protections for migrant workers

In June 2023, the Australian Government announced changes to the Fair Work Act 2009, including increased protections for migrant workers to provide the same protections as for other Australian workers.

Previously, if a migrant worker breached the Migration Act 1958, there was uncertainty over the enforceability of the worker’s contract of employment.

The change that took effect from 1 July 2023 means migrant and temporary migrant workers in Australia will remain entitled to their wage and employment rights under workplace laws regardless of their migration status.

For up-to-date information on protections for migrant workers under the Fair Work Act 2009, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.