Pacific workers in Tasmania, Queensland in limbo as large employer quits PALM scheme

Pacific workers hired by Linx Employment (Photo: Linx Employment/Facebook)

More than 200 Pacific workers have been left in limbo after their employer Linx Employment agreed to end its participation in the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme amid worker treatment investigations.

The Tasmanian labour hire company is being investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) over allegations it failed to provide workers with their legally contracted 30 hours per week. 

In a statement, a DEWR spokesman told the ABC more than 200 workers across Tasmania and Queensland were affected by the decision.

“Linx Employment Tas Pty Ltd has today agreed with DEWR to end their participation in the PALM scheme,” the spokesman said.

“Linx is working with DEWR and other stakeholders to secure the best outcomes for workers, and host employers.

“The immediate priority continues to be the welfare and wellbeing of PALM workers and host employers maintaining access to their reliable and productive PALM scheme workers.”

The spokesman said the company was working with the department to find alternate arrangements for the affected workers and host employers, with some already securing “positive outcomes”. 

“Working closely with Linx Employment to exit the scheme is the best way to support workers and host employers,” he said.

“The government does not tolerate migrant worker exploitation. 

“Government reforms to the PALM scheme will result in improvements to worker welfare and wellbeing, and seek to eliminate worker exploitation.”

The ABC has contacted Linx Employment for comment. 

On Thursday the Australian Workers’ Union claimed Linx Employment’s “licence” had been revoked, but at the time DEWR said it did not comment on current investigations and “no decision has been made”.

By Friday evening the company had quit the program.

AWU national secretary Paul Farrow said workers should now ignore directives from the company and deal directly with DEWR. 

“We are concerned this is tip of the iceberg,” he said. 

“In the year 2019-20 there were 171 people seeking protection visas after coming to Australia on PALM, SWP, and PLS visas. In 2022-23 there were 1,698.

“Diplomats from Samoa, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea have also been informed of developments at Linx.”

According to DEWR, there are more than 39,000 PALM workers in Australia working for more than 400 approved employers. 

Approved employers must offer them 30 hours work per week averaged over their placement, but from July 2024 they must provide a minimum of 30 hours each week.

Rachel Chambers, the chief executive of Queensland horticulture industry body Growcom, said there was no room for rogue operators in the industry. 

“The industry wants any bad behaviour stamped out. It’s that simple,” she said. 

“Remove the entities that are tarnishing the industry’s reputation. The majority are doing great things.”

But she said there were concerns about what the changes to the 30-hour guarantee would mean for the scheme. 

“We have continuously said seasonality means horticulture cannot guarantee this work,” she said.  “If we are made to — as what is written to start in July 2024 for growers — many will have to withdraw from the PALM scheme,” she said.