Pacific’s labour market issues need handling by regional body says Cooks academic

FILE PHOTO: A labourer marks steel bars at a steel and iron factory in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, February 18, 2008. REUTERS/Patty Chen/File Photo

HONIARA, 12 OCTOBER 2018 (COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS) – The Pacific Community, Forum Secretariat, and Australia’s vocational training project in the region have been raised as potential hosts for a new pacific Labour Mobility office.

And it’s an idea that has met its moment, says Cook Islands academic Dr Yvonne Underhill-Sem.

Sem, the lead researcher for Labour Mobility at the New Zealand Institute of Pacific Research, says a regional platform will help keep up momentum and traction for regional progress on ideas, challenges and opportunities aimed at harnessing what the World Bank predicts will be a five to 10-billion US-dollar regional industry by 2040.

It’s hoped a regional facility will also broaden the focus beyond numbers, demand and supply.

“We need to get a wider understanding of labour market challenges in the region” says Dr Sem.

She says the whole issue is more than numbers of people heading into numbers of available jobs in Australia and New Zealand. “It’s beyond trade and it’s beyond labour on its own, and it needs to be a wider strategic understanding of labour issues in our region — how we enhance it, and then how we fit labour mobility into it.”

Sem is part of a handful of NZ and Australia-based academics monitoring and generating research in the field, much of it based on studies around  Philippines labour migrants across the world.

Presenting at this years Honiara meeting on the implications for labour sending countries of new Labour Mobility schemes, Sem and other academics are keen to see more Pacific-led and owned research into the Labour Mobility area, tackling more of the issues around gender, social and cultural impacts for the countries providing labour and those receiving it.

But alongside the national responses, a regional platform is needed to pull common threads together and strengthen a regional response, she says.

“If you take a look around the region and ask yourself where and which regional organisation is picking up labour market analysis, I think you would find no regional organisation is (doing this work), even though every government has got an interest in this area, and so the evidence is that there is no consolidated understanding of how this needs to happen in our region,” says Dr. Sem.

She says her choice would lean towards SPC, the Pacific Community, ‘just because they have the human resource kind of responsibility, because it’s about fertility, youth, enhancing our labour force through education and training, and its about business entrepreneurism.”

Other choices shared by delegates were the Pacific Islands Forum, to keep the policy issues coherent and close to Leaders, and the Australian Pacific Training Coalition led by former Forum Secretariat Deputy Andie Fong Toy.

The Labour Mobility conference will flow into a one-day Pacer Plus Forum on Friday.

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