The World Bank has found reports of marital breakdowns, suspicion of infidelity of those engaged under the labour mobility programmes in Australia and New Zealand and also adverse outcomes on their children such as neglect and behavioral problems.
The World Bank Pacific Economic Upadate: Recovering in the Midst of Uncertainty launched in Suva, Fiji today at the margins of the Forum Economic Ministers meeting to be held on August 9-10 has also found that sending communities and households across the Pacific to the labour mobility programmes in Australia and New Zeland also face challenges, some of which directly relate to workers’ absence from home.
The Report which also has a special focus: Harnessing the benefits of Migration states that the absence of migrant workers from their home increases the workload of remaining family members, especially women, and affects the gendered division of labour.
For instance, in Vanuatu, localized labour shortages had reportedly arisen due to men being away, especially for physically demanding work such as construction or planting subsistence gardens.
“There are also reports of marital breakdowns, suspicion of infidelity, and adverse outcomes for children such as neglect and behavioral problems. In addition, adverse perceptions, moral judgments, and gossip regarding returned female migrants are common, especially when only a few women from a community participate in the schemes,” the report, states.
The findings of the report were delivered by Reshika Singh who is the World Bank Country Economist for Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Samoa and Thomas Walker who is a Lead Economist and Program Leader for Human Development at the World Bank.
The report further notes that issues regarding male participation in seasonal work include men sometimes squandering their pay, especially on alcohol, and therefore having lower savings on return compared to more family-focused female workers.
Solomon Islands’ now has more than 5,000 workers on the programmes in Australia and New Zealand and there are also similar reports of family problems as found in the report.
Meanwhile, the report also found that remittances have provided a critical source of financing for essential household consumption and investment in human capital, especially in times of crisis.
It learnt that the main use of remittances from seasonal workers were for everyday expenses, including food, school fees and health care.
This pattern is robust both during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Daily expenses related to sending children to school (such as bus fares and school lunches) are significant, emphasizing the role of remittances in supporting investment in child education.
In areas where subsistence farming is prevalent and the cash economy is limited, remittances are often the primary source of fiat money for cash-based purchases of goods and services.
The report says during the pandemic, labour-sending households whose workers were unable to travel for seasonal work in the RSE and PALM schemes reported significantly higher financial anxiety than households whose workers were employed in the schemes as the reliance on remittance income became more pronounced during this period, with the share of labour-sending households relying on remittances from seasonal workers as their main source of income increasing by 5-17 percentage points.
Addressing the challenges of family separation
Meanwhile the report says the recent expansion of the PALM and RSE schemes, together with Australia’s commitment to explore family accompaniment in long-term PALM placements, present significant development opportunities for the Pacific Islands.
It says temporary migration programs can increase national income, skill levels and improve prospects for many Pacific Islanders who might otherwise struggle to find good jobs at home. The report further says family accompaniment could also help address the social impacts of prolonged family separation.
It however says the migration process needs to be well managed, integrated with local labour markets and skills development programs, and treated as part of a broader productive inclusion program that offers opportunities within the sending country for those who do not migrate as well as those who return after working overseas. The report notes there is an opportunity for Pacific governments to do more, with support from development partners, to ensure migration leads to sustainable gains for the entire society and protects those directly involved.
Furthermore, the Pacific governments can look to expand migration opportunities beyond Australia and New Zealand.
It says migration under other low-and semi-skilled channels is already happening to some extent, for example Solomon Islands’ workers are employed in Canada. It will be important for the Pacific to invest in outreach and engagement with a wide range of potential employers, to market their workers and ensure that overseas employment placements are secured with adequate safeguards and training opportunities. In the longer term, skills development could help Pacific countries become competitive in the telework industry, opening access to foreign jobs for a larger share of the population.
-by SBMOnline editor in Suva, Fiji