31 Aug 2023

Samoa PM Fiame says 'losing human resources' through regional labour schemes a worry

2:48 pm on 31 August 2023
The World Bank has called for more jobs to be made available for women in New Zealand and Australia under their respective Pacific labour mobility schemes.

The exodus of Pacific labourers to Australia and New Zealand through regional labour schemes has been on the agenda of Pacific leaders. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Koroi Hawkins

Samoa's Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa has doubled down on her concerns about Australia's labour mobility scheme creating problems for the local workforce.

The exodus of Pacific labourers to Australia and New Zealand through regional labour schemes has been on the agenda of Pacific leaders.

While they have acknowledged the benefits of the labour mobility on Pacific economies, they have also raised concerns about the social and economic challenges that arise from it.

"The number of Pacific Island nationals heading to Australia under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme has grown rapidly since covid travel restrictions were eased, with the program now drawing in more than 35,000 workers on both short and longer term contracts," ABC reported.

Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa

Samoa Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"The federal government has hailed the scheme as a major success, saying it has helped to fill workforce shortages in Australia while allowing Pacific Islanders to develop their skills and send valuable remittances back home."

Fiame told ABC's The Pacific that she worried about PALM's underlying dynamics, arguing that Pacific nations risked being seen as "just these outposts where we grow people".

"When we're feeling the impact of losing our human resources through these various labour schemes, we really do have to look at how we respond.

"You know, either to send them off as sportspeople, or to send them off as labour mobility teams and so forth, as though that's our lot in life," she said.

"I really don't like that," she said.

She told the ABC that Pacific leaders needed to "sit down" with Australian and New Zealand officials to discuss labour shortages, and that both Canberra and Wellington should consider more "flexible and mobile" arrangements with Pacific neighbours to help relieve the pressure.

"I think the pressure for people to migrate, is because it's so hard to … just to go visit. A lot of Pacific Islanders think that [the] only way they can get access, in any significant way, to New Zealand and Australia, is through permanent migration," she said.

"But I think if we had more open access, and travel, there wouldn't be that pressure."

Australian National University's Development Policy Centre director Stephen Howes said while some Pacific employers had blamed labour schemes for skill shortages, it was difficult to gauge the scale of the problem.

"We haven't seen any industries collapse, so the evidence [of skills shortages] on the ground is limited," he told the ABC.