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Labour mobility described as a tsunami in the Pacific as brain drain takes front seat discussion

Forum Economic Ministers started their meeting today
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By Robert L. Iroga, in Suva

Whilst Solomon Islands places no quota on its workers employed under the labour mobility programmes in Australia and New Zealand, some regional countries are pushing for control as the debate of brain-drain takes the front seat.

Today, the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) has added its voice to the concern describing the programmes’ attraction to Pacific workers as a ‘tsunami’.

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Chairperson of PIPSO Howard Politini

Chairperson of PIPSO Howard Politini said the labour mobility has been a tsunami because of the drawcard of Australia, New Zealand and others’ markets that have offered bigger returns for “our” labours’ efforts and skills.

“It is a good problem when it is controlled but this is sort a tsunami,” Politini said.

In the current Forum Economic Ministers Meeting (FEMM) in Suva, ministers will discuss a regional strategy to address the challenges brought about by the labour mobility schemes in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Khan

Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu have expressed concerns on the issue of brain drain as a lot of their skilled workers have left their jobs to work  in the two countries. The latest World Bank Report found that on average, a Ni-Vanuatu worker earns ten times what he usually gets at home whilst Tonga four times.

Forum Secretariat’s Director for Programs and Initiatives Zarak Khan said that Forum member countries have felt strongly on the issue of labour mobility and brain drain.

He said whilst many feel that it brought in remittances and skills transfers— there is a cost to it which needs to be fully assessed, interrogated for a better understanding for appropriate policies to be developed.

Khan further stated that countries’ are also in different stages of development, population and market sizes.

For instance, he said, the Solomon Islands, has access to labour which means it is a resource driven economy and there is excess labour that it can send to other countries as there are young people looking for jobs. However, others like Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa which are little bit more developed like in tourism, agriculture and manufacturing are being affected negatively by the loss of skilled labour which is detrimental as their labour supply is a bit tight.

He pointed out that what the Forum hoped to achieve with the strategy is an evidence-based decision making process where members will be provided with the plan so that they have a complete assessment and make decision for themselves.

“We are encouraging all countries to conduct their own labour market assessment at the national level. This will then inform what their policies in terms of mobility, human resources requirement and how they can attract more investments in the country and help the right type of skills and right type of jobs,” Khan said.

He added this can be done with education providers, tertiary institutions, making sure there are more workers and qualified people coming in.

According to PIPSO’s Politini in his report to the leaders’ this morning highlighted that the common issues facing the private sector is labour shortage, skills shortage, unavailable pathways to hire foreign talent or import of labour/intra pacific migration, unfair competition, administration barriers, no seat at the policy making platforms, lack of regional data and role of private sector in the design, implementation, and monitoring of labour migration policies.

He said this coupled with the protection of the rights of migrant workers – superannuation, remittance of funds back to their home countries and lack of reintegration services, support, and incentives.

In that regard, PIPSO calls upon FEMM leaders for a more inclusive approach to ensuring private sector organisations within their respective Pacific Islands Country are part of the policy making to ensure the issues mentioned are addressed for a win-win approach.

Politini pointed out that such examples could include the utilization of your NPSO’s to conduct pre departure process for trade unions and employers as part of the inclusiveness in the design of labour migration policies plus the inclusion of private sector in the recruitment process.

The case of Solomon Islands

Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs and External Trade Collin Beck had well-articulated the issue of quota, he pointed out that Solomon Islands didn’t have any issues and was not planning to limit the number of workers it is sending.

Solomon Islands currently has more than 5,000 workers under the programmes mostly in Australia. This year, a total of 15,000 applied for the Work Ready Pool recruitment drive.

Last year a total of SBD$182m was recorded as remittances under the labour mobility programmes only.




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