One of the two biggest income earners for most Pacific Island countries, particularly in Polynesia, is remittances – the other being tourism. Vast numbers of Pacific Island people live and work mainly in Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America, besides other countries around the world. Globally, remittances are growing at a clipping pace with higher rates of immigration and people travelling to work elsewhere despite countries continually raising the bar for immigrants with harder parameters to satisfy. In the Pacific Islands region, over the past decade, one single activity has added handsomely to remittances – seasonal work. Ever since a framework for seasonal work for Pacific islanders was set up at first in New Zealand and then in Australia, increasing number of Pacific Island workers have found their way to these two countries and earned income for themselves and their home countries – income that did not exist before.
New Zealand’s seasonal worker programme called the Recognised Seasonal Worker (RSE) scheme has been well regarded as being successful and currently employs more than 8000 workers from several island states. Australia, which began its Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) two years after New Zealand, employs about half that number. After a slow start, it appears as though Australia’s initiative is now coming into its own, though it is still a long way off from realizing its full potential. For the first time since inception Australia’s SWP – which includes mainly horticulture workers from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Timor Leste – met the government specified cap for seasonal workers this year.
Seasonal work employers, representatives from labour sending countries, Australian Government officials and other stakeholders attended an SWP conference on the Gold Coast in August to take stock of the initiative and discuss challenges and opportunities. SWP is at the mid point of its four-year tenure with 52 enterprises employed in about 50 local government areas, mostly in the states of Queensland and Victoria. Some islands have done better than others in sending their citizens to work in Australia. For instance, Tongans comprise a disproportionate 75 per cent of Australia’s seasonal workforce pool, while Kiribati and Nauru are at the opposite end. Nauru did not send any worker this year.
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• We Say is compiled and edited by Samisoni Pareti