The World Bank advocates greater labour mobility
The World Bank advocates greater labour mobility as the key to improving employment and opportunity in the Pacific.
The World Bank wants more labour mobility in the Pacific.
In a new report the Bank says new strategies are needed to address the growing employment challenges in the region, particularly among women and youth.
A Bank economist, Suva based Tobias Haque, told Don Wiseman the best move for the Pacific would be greater labour mobility.
TOBIAS HAQUE: One of the biggest problems for Pacific Island countries is that they're very small, they're very remote from the market and that imposes significant costs on private sector activity within those countries. So if they're are constraints to the private sector within those countries, the priority is really allowing labour to move from those countries to where the private sector is less constrained - which is larger markets. Obviously there is a strong history of Pacific labour mobility to New Zealand and Australia and we're suggesting that that should be expanded and in the longer term, I suppose, there's other large markets in Asia etc. that could also be looked at.
DON WISEMAN: It's been talked about a lot of course, this idea of labour mobility across the region, but these people are paid; they come to New Zealand, they're paid very low wages really from a New Zealand or Australian perspective, is it ideal?
TH: I think the ideal, from the perspective of the World Bank, is would be that there were permanent labour mobility options, and an expansion of permanent mobility options. So for example, New Zealand is actually a bit ahead of the game here and every year it allows 1,100 Samoans to come into New Zealand and enjoy full rights as New Zealand citizens and work in the labour market there. There's also special access for people from other Pacific Islands under the Pacific access category visas. That's an ideal situation, we can't get to the ideal immediately, so we have to make use of the opportunities that are available and seasonal work is an important opportunity. I think it's important to note that what would seem like a very low wage to us, can be a very high wage to people living in Pacific Island countries.
DW: Well that's something that will help, but it's not going to solve the problem is it? So what else needs to happen?
TH: There are many things that need to happen. Some of the basic stuff like just making life easier for people trying to do business, just things like: having business regulations that are easy to work with and make sense, making sure that it doesn't take too much time or too much money meeting the compliance requirements for running a business. But I think our sense is that that's never going to get you all of the way there either, so some of the other opportunities that are talked about there in the report are things where Pacific Island countries have a demonstrated historical advantage: tourism, natural resources, areas where a lot of employment already exists and a lot of private sector activity in the Pacific is taking place. Our encouragement for the Pacific in those areas is really to be careful about what they're subsidising, be careful how they're regulating those activities and try to make sure that they're maximising, not just employment, but sustainable and high quality employment in those sectors.
DW: Where's all the capital going to come from for this business development?
TH: I think one of the things that we've seen recently here in Fiji, but also across the region, is growing interest from east Asia and particularly China. The Chinese tourism market for example is projected to absolutely skyrocket over coming decades and the Pacific Island countries are very well placed to benefit from that both as a recipient of Chinese tourists, but also as a recipient of Chinese investment. Of course New Zealand and Australian have traditionally played a very important partnership role with Pacific Island countries given the strong historical linkages and we expect investment from those countries to also continue.
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