SEASONAL WORKER PROGRAMME (SWP) & PACIFIC LABOUR SCHEME (PLS)
There are approximately 8,000 Seasonal and Pacific Workers in Australia at present. Now is a good time to apply to become an Approved Employer – visit here to see how.
From 20 April 2020, SWP and PLS workers can apply for the early release of their superannuation up to the value of $10,000 if they cannot meet their immediate living expenses. The government is working to ensure they collect this upon departure, however the option is there if needed.
See Approved Employer communique for 9 April 2020 here.
On 4 April 2020, Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, announced that SWP and PLS workers would be eligible to extend their stay in Australia for 12 months to work for approved employers.
SWP workers with visas due to expire will be able to apply for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream. View the Online Visa Application Guide for details on how to apply for this visa.
During the COVID-19 period, condition 8503 (No Further Stay) attached to subclass 403 SWP visas will be automatically waived to allow Seasonal Workers to apply for the Temporary Activity (subclass 408) AGEE visa. Seasonal Workers do not need to apply for a waiver of this condition.
Bridging Visa E
- If the seasonal worker has already lodged a Bridging Visa E application via ImmiAccount and it has not yet been finalised it can be withdrawn via ImmiAccount and an application for a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) visa in the Australian Government Endorsed Event (AGEE) stream can be lodged instead
- Seasonal Workers currently on a Bridging Visa E can continue to work under the program, however they should lodge an application for the Temporary Activity (408)– AGEE – COVID-19 Pandemic event visa as soon as possible.
The Department is currently developing frequently asked questions about the 408 Visa. Approved Employers with questions about this should contact:
- their Contract Manager for questions relating to SWP recruitments
- the Department of Home Affairs for visa specific questions
PLS workers with visas due to expire can apply for a new Temporary Work (International Relations) (subclass 403) Pacific Labour scheme stream visa via the Department of Home Affairs online lodgement portal, ImmiAccount.
Workers currently in Australia under these programs will be exempt from the requirement to work for a single employer, and will be able to move between approved employers, allowing flexibility and continued support for the agriculture sector in meeting seasonal workforce demands. SWP and PLS arrangements, including those relating to employers, will be carried over to the new visa arrangements, continuing the link with the agricultural sector.
These temporary measures are not intended to prevent the recruitment of Australians to undertake this work. Before seeking access to SWP workers, approved employers must first try to recruit Australians (labour market testing).
Existing portability arrangements will continue for seasonal workers employed by approved employers in the pilot regions of Sunraysia, Goulburn/Murray, Riverina and Wimmera-Mallee, which commenced on 1 January 2020. Read more about the Regional Pilot program here.
These temporary measures will be in place for a time frame that allows relevant critical industries to bridge the gap between their immediate needs and the time to recruit, train and on-board Australians. The Department of Home Affairs is working with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment to ensure Australians are prioritised for future job opportunities.
On 25 March 2020, an update was sent regarding the SWP and PLS from the Department of Home Affairs, requesting Approved Employers to advise workers with expiring visas to apply for Bridging Visas. Read the full update here.
On 15 March 2020, the Australian Government announced new measures with the aim of reducing the spread of coronavirus: Coronavirus measures endorsed by National Cabinet.
All travellers arriving into Australia after 15 March 2020, including Australian citizens returning from overseas, are required to self-isolate for 14 days.
All of the actions being put in place are based on advice from Australia’s leading medical experts and are designed to protect Australia. The department acknowledges that these new measures will create uncertainty and challenges, but appreciates your ongoing efforts to adhere to these new requirements.
The COVID-19 situation is dynamic and the department will continue to provide the most relevant heath advice as it becomes available.
Seasonal workers travelling to Australia
Travellers arriving in Australia through a major port will be allowed to continue on to their final destination by transiting through a domestic airport or through other arrangements. If an overnight stopover is required travellers must self-isolate in their accommodation until they continue their journey.
The 14 day self-isolation period for all travellers begins when they reach their final destination. For seasonal workers this will be the place where they are accommodated.
For more information, please see: Public Transport Guidance.
14 day self-isolation period and seasonal workers
For information on the 14 day self-isolation period please see: Isolation Guidance
- During the self-isolation period, seasonal workers must stay at their accommodation and not go into public places, including work or public gatherings and are not to see visitors. If seasonal workers are in a hotel, they must avoid contact with other guests or staff.
- Self-isolating seasonal workers must not be housed with others e.g. seasonal workers who are already here, backpackers, welfare and wellbeing support staff, supervisors or other members of the public.
- If seasonal workers are accommodated in caravan parks, backpacker accommodation or other shared premises they must be able to be isolated from others with separate bathroom, kitchen and lounge facilities.
- Please advise the department if this type of accommodation is being used for affected workers and provide details on how you will manage the isolation requirements in accordance with the information from the Department of Health.
- If a worker reports symptoms of COVID-19 during the 14 day self-isolation period (or at any other time) you must contact the National Coronavirus Information Line operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 020 080 and facilitate their access to medical assistance.
- Approved Employers must not conduct face to face arrival briefings with workers until after the workers have undertaken their 14 day self-isolation period.
- The 14 day self-isolation period is exempt from the placement duration in terms of Approved Employers providing an average of 30 hours of work per week minimum.
- Any seasonal worker health issues must continue to be reported to the department through SWP Online and appropriate information and updates provided.
- During the 14 day self-isolation period Approved Employers do not need to assist seasonal workers to set up Australian bank accounts, apply for tax file numbers or establish a superannuation account. However, this obligation must be performed within 5 business days of the conclusion of the workers self-isolation period.
Providing welfare and wellbeing support during the 14 day self-isolation period
Although seasonal workers are unable to work during their 14 day self-isolation period Approved Employers are still responsible for their care and wellbeing.
- That you keep in touch with workers daily to ensure that they feel supported and know who to talk to if they have any concerns.
- The workers accommodation is stocked with enough food and other essentials to cover the self-isolation period. You may need to review this every few days. These costs may be deducted from the workers’ wages when they commence work, but you must provide a summary of the costs to the workers beforehand so they can agree to the deductions in writing. Please refer to section 2.5.2 in the Guidelines for more information.
- The workers have connection to the internet so they can keep in contact with you and their families. If Wi-Fi isn’t available in the accommodation you must ensure the workers have a mobile phone with access to the internet.
- You explain any other changes to deductions if and when this is required.
- The workers have and maintain adequate health insurance as appropriate. This is important as workers may require medical assistance for conditions other than COVID-19 while they are in self-isolation.
- You share the messages with the workers that are provided below and keep them updated on any changes when they occur.
Messages to share with seasonal workers:
- Information and messages about COVID-19 are being constantly updated as the situation changes. I will keep you informed of any changes when they come to hand.
- Everyone coming into Australia from overseas has to self-isolate for 14 days. This means you will need to stay in your accommodation for 14 days and will not be allowed out to go shopping, go to work or church, or meet with other people outside of your accommodation. You can only interact with the group of people you are sharing your accommodation with.
- It’s really important that you do this to slow down the number of cases of COVID-19.
- I will make sure you have enough food to eat and that you can contact your family.
- If your families are relying on you to send money then you should tell them you may not be able to send money home initially because you need to self-isolate for 14 days.
- It’s important that you practice good hygiene. This means washing your hands regularly, especially after you have been to the bathroom and before you prepare or eat any food.
- Some people who are infected will only get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill, very quickly. Please tell me if you are feeling unwell or if you think that someone else is feeling unwell. Symptoms are fever, a cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath.
- If you and your fellow house mates don’t have any symptoms at the end of the 14 days you will be able to go to work and interact with people outside of your accommodation.
- Talk to me or your welfare and wellbeing support person if you have any other questions or concerns.
To assist Approved Employers in having those conversations, please refer to the PLF/SWP information sheet for seasonal workers and the Department of Health Fact sheet on Advice for International Travellers, on the previous page.
Contingency planning for seasonal workers
Updates on travel advice are available on the Smart Traveller website. To assist seasonal workers if they are required to spend a period of time in quarantine on their way home, the department is requesting that Approved Employers take the following actions:
- Explain to workers that it would be best if they did not send all of their money home, but keep some in their bank account to cover any additional costs, such as extra airfares and incidentals if they are required to quarantine in a COVID-19 free country on their way home or in Australia.
- You should also consider how you will provide a worker with the facilities to single self-isolate if this becomes necessary. For example, could they be moved into a single bedroom or cabin with their own bathroom facilities?
If you are seeking further advice and information on COVID-19 you can also call the National Coronavirus Information Line operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1800 020 080.
The Department of Health website continues to have up to date information on the latest medical advice and official reports to assist Approved Employers and seasonal workers.
For further information
If you are an Approved Employer have any questions, please contact your Contract Manager or alternatively, you may wish to email us: SeasonalWorker@dese.gov.au.
SWP Information Line
(02) 6240 5234, Monday to Friday, 9.00am-5.00pm AEST (excluding public holidays)
Critical Incidents and Emergencies
1800 515 131, Monday to Friday, before 9.00am or after 5.00pm AEST, (or any time on a weekend or public holiday)
Citrus Australia advises that these changes have a significant impact on the upcoming harvest season, including:
- Requirement to request workers two weeks earlier.
- Requirement to source additional accommodation for new workers during the 14-day self-isolation period.
- Contingency plan for additional labour if new workers become ill during self-isolation and can no longer work in your orchard / packing shed.
If you have any queries regarding these changes, please contact the information line noted above.