By Pesi Fonua
Tonga is one of four Pacific Island countries that is supporting a proposal for the establishment of a Regional Secretariat for labour mobility initiatives and a PACER Plus Implementation Unit.
The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu also offered to host the Labour Mobility Initiatives and the PACER Plus Implementation Unit in their own country, when the proposal was raised at the 2018 Pacific Labour Mobility Annual Meeting, held in Honiara, Solomon Islands on 10 October 2018.
Since 2012 more than 16,000 seasonal workers from nine Pacific Island countries, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu and Timor–Leste have participated in Seasonal Workers Programmes (SWP) that bring in millions annually to the region.
We will “shape our future together”, Hon. Rick Houenipwela, the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, declared in his opening speech of this year’s meeting held at the Heritage Park Hotel.
The PM with confidence stressed that, “we will transform our labour mobility partnerships into more effective economic benefits for all involved.”
During three days of deliberation, 10-12 October, topics on the agenda included: “What could Labour Mobility in the Pacific look like in 10 years’ time”, “Creating inclusive strategies for under-represented groups”, “Money Matters”, and “Intra-regional Labour Mobility”.
Attending the 2018 Pacific Labour Mobility Annual Meeting PLMAM were representatives from PACER Plus participant countries: Australia, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Representatives of other Pacific Islands countries attended as observers.
After three days of intense deliberation, a three-pages Outcome Document and highlighted two issues among the 11 outcomes. One was a call to identify how Seasonal Workers can have access to their superannuation. The other was a call for the establishment of a regional Secretariat for labour mobility initiatives, with clear mandates and responsibilities.
The 2018 PLMAM, also moved for their proposals to be tabled at the PACER Plus signatories meeting that began in Honiara on 12 October.
The initiatives are to be funded by either Australia or New Zealand.
The Tongan delegation to 2018 PLMAM were: Edgar Cocker, the CEO for the Ministry of Labour and Trade; Leta Havea Kami, the CEO for the Tonga Development Bank; Fanau‘ifo’ou ‘Akau’ola, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Ministry for Internal Affairs; ‘Alisi Holani, Secretary Ministry of Trade and Labour; Sione Palu Vaka, the Liaison Officer for Tonga’s Seasonal Workers in Australia, and Sefita Hau’uli, Tonga’s Liaison Officer, based in Wellington.
Australia and New Zealand offered their own labour mobility scheme to the Pacific Islands to meet their need for labourers.
Under the New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme RSE, it was reported that employers in horticulture and viticulture industries employed up to 11,100 migrant workers from the Pacific Islands for up to seven months a year, “remitting between $NZD34-41 million annually to their island countries since 2008”. These were mainly unskilled labourers, carrying out work where New Zealand has a labour shortage.
Australia also has their own labour mobility scheme; the Seasonal Workers Programme SWP that was launched in 2012, primarily for the Horticulture Sector.
In July 2015 the Australian government expanded its SWP into additional industries, such as hospitality and tourism, accommodation and livestock agriculture.
On 1 July 2018 Australia launched its Pacific Labour Scheme, enabling citizens of select Pacific islands countries to take up low and semi-skilled work opportunities in rural and regional Australia for up to three years.
Only workers from Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu can participate in the scheme. The scheme will be extended to other Pacific Islands based on “need, impact and progress on the PACER Plus regional Trade Agreement”.
Can Tonga attract Foreign Investment, and create jobs for its unemployed workers?
There was no clear answer to this question, but success of this Labour Mobility phenomenon for Tonga will be to create jobs opportunities for its own skilled and non-skilled labourers.