Realizing Pacific labour mobility potential
Labour mobility is already of huge importance to the Pacific and opportunities are growing rapidly. The number of seasonal workers travelling each year for horticultural work under Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and New Zealand’s Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) program increased from some 6,000 in 2008 to almost 20,000 last year. Current trends suggest that the number of seasonal workers visiting Australia and New Zealand may reach 50,000 by 2030.
Participants in Australian and New Zealand seasonal worker schemes
But no Pacific country can take labour mobility success for granted. There are five serious challenges to be overcome.
First, in both Australia and New Zealand, most horticultural labour is foreign. Competition from non-Pacific nations is especially fierce in Australia where there are four times as many backpackers (from non-Pacific nations) as there are seasonal workers, and where there are calls to get more backpackers onto Australian farms, and to introduce a new agricultural visa targeted at Asian workers.
Second, Pacific nations compete with each other for seasonal work. Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa between them currently take almost 90% of available places. Growth will provide opportunities for other countries, but competition for new places will be intense. At current trends, there might be an additional 30,000 seasonal work opportunities for the Pacific by 2030, but we estimate that there will be 140,000 workers across the Pacific competing for those additional slots if PNG is excluded, and over half a million if PNG is included.
Third, nationalism is on the rise worldwide. This could lead to a backlash in both Australia and New Zealand against Pacific migration schemes, which are gaining in profile. And it could discourage governments from relaxing limits on capped schemes.
Fourth, sending countries also have their concerns. Pacific politicians worry about declining domestic agricultural output, about workers …read more