Experts have expressed concerns over “red flags” in the current Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme as families of PALM workers prepare to relocate to Australia at their own expense with no access to Medicare.
PALM scheme aged care workers from Pacific Island countries will soon be able to reunite with their families after being separated from them to fill dire gaps in the Australian aged care workforce, despite concerns the move won’t be viable for some families as they will need to foot the bill for relocation and housing costs.
Currently, PALM workers are required to pay for health insurance and need to pay hospital costs in full if they are pregnant and give birth in Australia.
Matt Withers, an expert on temporary labour migration at Australian National University, told The Guardian that without more Government subsidies to help workers who want to bring their families over, this lack of aid would undermine the point of the scheme.
“There are certain parameters in the way it has been set up which raise a few red flags for me in terms of the likelihood that workers are actually able to bring their families across,” he said.
“It becomes a bit contradictory in that sense if we are loading all of these costs onto the workers themselves in a program that is basically designed to channel remittances back to Pacific Island countries.”
Back in August, South Sea Islander Worker Welfare advocate, Geoffrey Smith, told HelloCare that a lot more was needed in the scheme before the program was expanded, particularly more well-being support and accommodation for PALM workers.
“It’s not just: shove the workers over here and say, ‘OK, problem solved’,” said Mr Smith.
“They’re told: ‘You’ll be treated the same as every Australian worker’.”
Experts in the field are now urging the Government to give workers and their families access to Medicare like any other Australian taxpayer to ease some financial burden.
In advice to workers wanting to use the scheme, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warned families that may fall pregnant while in Australia that they would need to consider if they have sufficient funds to travel home for the birth or pay $10,000 out of pocket in an Australian hospital.
The move also raises equity issues as workers don’t have a choice on where they work in Australia. Those living in rural areas have a higher chance of encountering problems accessing services such as childcare, housing and other job vacancies for their family.
In November, concerns by Pacific Island nations involved with the PALM scheme grew as skills shortages became apparent in their healthcare systems as highly qualified nurses move to Australia for work.