The seasonal worker schemes have been a great success, not only benefiting workers but allowing many small Pacific islands to benefit through remittances that are passed to families. This has kept many of the Pacific nations afloat during the pandemic.
Families in the Pacific are enjoying a better life through such schemes because the money earned in Australia and New Zealand can be up to 10 times higher than what some people could earn in their home countries.
This has made the work available in a foreign land very attractive for Pacific islanders, however is also creating a new problem.
Samoa’s civil service and private sector are seeing a migration of workers to the scheme, chasing earnings over a short period equivalent to what they could make over a decade in Samoa.
Samoa’s Minister for Police and Prisons Faualo Harry Schuster raised concerns after seeing police officers trade in the uniform for fruit picking and vegetable harvesting work. Mr Faualo said it was not not just his ministry that was losing skilled staff.
On the flip side, this exodus is allowing more local youth to join the police force but according to the minister this doesn’t replace years of expertise.
The problem is reaching a national level and the cabinet has appointed a sub-committee to look into the concerns. Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa updated the media this week on the work of the committee.
“The objective is for the cabinet sub-committee to continue with its review and advise cabinet accordingly for an appropriate decision to satisfy all sides involved, and how the workers should be selected to avoid the concern by the Government and business sector of losing employees to the scheme,” said Ms Mataafa.
Like in all Pacific countries, the scheme was supposed to offer the unemployed work however the stories of success through the program have enticed not just the unemployed but those who you are currently in the workforce.
“There seems to be loopholes in the selection process that has created this problem,” said Ms Mataafa.
Businesses and the civil service alike are seeing an issue with the labour force. In Vanuatu, 5,000 people are currently working in New Zealand and Australia. There is the likelihood more will leave for such work.
Vanuatu’s Labour Commissioner Murielle Meltenoven said the nation was working with the International Labour Organisation to come up with a policy that would allow for workers to leave the country but at the same time solve issues in the local labour market.
“There are many complaints already in the domestic labour market with the brain drain of our workers to the labour mobility program,” said Ms Metenoven.
“So, through the Commission, with the technical support from the ILO, we are working to establish our first national employment policy to address those gaps in the employment sector within our domestic market.”
In Samoa, the cabinet received the first review report by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour on the seasonal program and the nation is looking to work on a policy as well.
While this happens, 1,666 workers are leaving Samoa in the next two months to work in Australia and New Zealand.