BY GEORGINA KEKEA
LABOUR mobility has been occurring in the Pacific since the 19th and 20th century. Except that time, Pacific Islanders were tricked or stolen to work in plantations in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Samoa and Peru as slaves.
This time however, times have changed. The current labour mobility scheme is no way near the black birding days. Pacific island countries together with Australia and New Zealand including other countries that have labour mobility programs with the pacific are collaborating more in how they can address the regional labour priorities together.
This week the third annual labour mobility meeting brings together employers, workers, government officials and stakeholders to discuss these issues together.
As part of their participation in this meeting, both New Zealand and Australia are bringing to the table issues of concern from all parties involved.
For New Zealand, while they share the same optimism as Solomon Islands and other pacific countries in providing employment, they are also wary in how this program is being carried out.
From 5000 in 2007, slowly the number has increased over the past decade. To date, there are 11,000 pacific seasonal workers in the scheme. Of this number 682 are Solomon Islanders. In comparison to Vanuatu’s more than 4000 workers, this number is very small.
Prime Minister, Rick Hou says, this number reflects the country’s inability to meet the standard expected.
“Why we have not been able to send more workers under the labour mobility scheme is that we are very dis-organized. I think a lesson everyone should learn is, don’t be disorganized”, Hou said.
He admitted that the government has to be on top of the labour mobility scheme. He said Solomon Islands lack the information needed to better the program. Hou said government should work on having a good database system so to help understand the human resources and the set of skills they have.
He said Solomon Islands population is growing at an alarming rate and he is concerned.
“I am looking at big numbers. I want within the next 10 years, I want 10,000 young people of Solomon Islands going out of the country to work”, Hou said.
At the same time, this annual meeting held in Honiara is looking at ways in which this labour mobility scheme can enhance the existing scheme and be a win-win situation for all.
Matt Hoskin from New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and New Zealand Government and Industry Panel said, “For argument sake, if you got 40 really good carpenters in the Solomon Islands and we came and took them to New Zealand. You are trying to rebuild your country. What will happen then?”
In a press conference Hoskin says they would like to see a better data of the labour market. This will help New Zealand understand the market better when they do recruitment. He admits this will be a big challenge for all the Pacific countries.
He said New Zealand prefer quality over quantity thus the recruitment process is an important component of the program. They currently recruit seasonal workers from Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.