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Business envoy November 2021

Labour Mobility: Pacific and Timor-Leste workers continue to deliver throughout the pandemic

The Pacific Australian Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme (including the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Programme) brings Pacific and Timor-Leste workers to Australia to fill low and semi-skilled roles in regional and rural Australia. The Scheme has proved highly valuable to employers at a time when Australia's labour market has been severely disrupted.

When COVID-19 border restrictions were introduced in March 2020, many employers faced  severe labour shortages. The agriculture sector, usually highly reliant on migrant labour, was particularly impacted and all while producers were expecting bumper seasons.

In September 2020, Pacific labour programs were restarted under new COVID-safe arrangements, with workers quarantining on arrival in Australia. The first flight brought 162 Ni-Vanuatu workers into the Northern Territory just in time to support the mango season. Since then, more than 12,500 Pacific workers have arrived in Australia, supporting agriculture, food processing, tourism, and aged-care businesses that were otherwise unable to source local labour to meet their needs.

As just one example of the difference these programs can make to a business, Simfresh, a family-owned citrus producer - that supplies nearly 2 million boxes of citrus for both the domestic and export market annually - has used PALM Scheme workers to help expand its operations and fill labour shortages throughout the pandemic.

The Simfresh relationship with Pacific workers started in September 2018, when it had difficulty sourcing local labour for its new farm in Gin Gin, Queensland. Simfresh joined the Seasonal Worker Programme and recruited Ni-Vanuatu workers to help set up the new operations. After excellent results, Simfresh recruited another cohort of Ni-Vanuatu workers to support its NSW season – which Operations Manager, Mr Luke Cini, described as “far and away the best picking results we've ever had”. Simfresh now has a workforce of Pacific workers across its NSW and QLD operations, including in semi-skilled roles such as forklift drivers, machine operators and line leaders for packing lines.

Businesses interested in sourcing labour through the PALM Scheme can find out more at


Timorese workers at Hillwood Berries in Hillwood, TAS
Timorese workers at Hillwood Berries in Hillwood, TAS
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