The Federal Government recently expanded the PALM scheme to include aged care in a bid to address major job vacancies in the sector, but it is unlikely to be a fix-all solution.
A recent Committee for Economic Development of Australia report showed the country needed to find an extra 35,000 aged care workers per year to fill growing skills shortages as 65,000 aged care employees were anticipated to leave the sector each year.
Additionally, an Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) survey earlier this year revealed that 20% of workers intended to leave within a year.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of CapeCare, Joanne Penman, told ABC News the workers had made a huge difference in the past four months since their arrival.
“In the short term, [overseas workers are] going to play a huge role and I think it’s the only way the sector is going to cope,” Ms Penman said.
“One of the unfortunate by-products of not being able to recruit adequate [numbers of] people is that we’ve blocked off some beds.
“We’ve actually got some of our Fijian workers living in those beds.”
ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler also told ABC News the expansion of the scheme could have a positive, but limited, impact.
“At this stage, it’s not going to be large numbers and we’re obviously going to need more than just a reliance on the PALM scheme to address all of our workforce shortages.
“Immigration is not a silver bullet but it’s part of those wider solutions.”
She added Australia’s history of mistreatment of people from South Pacific Islands could deter some people from choosing Australia as a place to work.
Ms Butler explained, “Our concerns are that anyone coming from any other country — but particularly from our South Pacific neighbours — that they experience the same pay and conditions and that there is no room for exploitation.
“They need to not be isolated from the communities they engage with.”
South Sea Islander Worker Welfare advocate Geoffrey Smith added a lot more is needed before the program is expanded, particularly ensuring to protect the overseas workers from discrimination.
“I think it is good because the workers can put things they’ve learnt in place in their country, but there are also people who want to make a career out of it here. Is that in place?” said Mr Smith.
“They’re told: ‘You’ll be treated the same as every Australian worker.’
“Every Australian worker can leave their employment and go and work for whoever they want to, ‘but not you guys’.”
Mr Smith said more wellbeing support and accommodation was needed to accommodate pacific workers.
“It’s just not shove the workers over here and say, ‘OK, problem solved’,” he said.
“I see a problem in the shifting though because, if you’ve got people on one shift all the time, you are going to burn them out.
“Accommodation has got to be a lot more sensitive, with two to a room, but not three, four.”
The issues will be discussed at next month’s Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra.