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Redefining the ‘Triple Win’: The Urgent Need for Re-integration Programs in Pacific Labour Mobility

Robyn Kingston

Redefining the 'Triple Win': The Urgent Need for Re-integration Programs in Pacific Labour Mobility

The ‘Triple Win Framework’ originally touted for the Pacific Labour Mobility schemes in terms of a win for the countries of workers’ origin; a win for the destination countries; and a win for the worker themselves is not a completely fulfilled assertion. A lot has changed since the labour mobility schemes were introduced in 2007, initially in New Zealand and in 2008 for Australia. The popularity of the schemes has grown rapidly over 15 years and there have been many independent reports on their successes as well as discussion around some of the less successful outcomes.

On an economic scale, the schemes have been immensely fruitful for the growth of Australia and New Zealand’s horticulture and viticulture industries. For the Pacific Islands Countries, income remitted or brought home has boosted economic development. Yet for the workers themselves the schemes have an immense impact on their social and economic welfare. Life in the islands is very different to the experiences and expectations placed upon them when they arrive in the destination countries. For many it will be their first overseas trip, leaving the familiarity of families and communities and being presented with wealth and opportunities they have never experienced.

Stories fill the media with tales of absconders, workers who drink too much and get into fights – or have extramarital affairs. But these stories are just face value, they do not unearth the underlying stresses and temptations faced by many workers. Digging a little deeper, research studies have shown the pressure workers feel to fund their families while they are away, pressure from communities and wider family members asking for money. The sense of freedom and lack of accountability being away from loved ones and support networks, leading to extramarital affairs, alcoholism and fights. These only apply to a tiny minority of workers but the problems highlight a need for greater worker welfare across the whole migration process.

Workers from Vanuatu make up the largest cohort of workers in both Australia and New Zealand, last year 35 percent (2022-23 financial year [1]) of all visas issued were to Ni-Vanuatu workers. From a small island nation this represents a significant portion of the adult working population, and when looking at the male population it is over 20 percent – signifying the labour mobility schemes are impacting the Ni-Vanuatu society widely. It is imperative that the social and economic wellbeing of workers taking part in the labour mobility schemes is cared for, and that they are given the tools to prosper from their overseas working experience, that they bring home the tools to thrive in their own communities.

Following the wave of popularity of the pacific labour mobility schemes, PICs are developing frameworks to ensure the programmes are a success for every individual. This includes the provision of pre-departure training, allocated government resources and, more recently, full circle frameworks to ensure the successful re-integration of workers to their communities and opportunities for prosperity at home. In 2021, Vanuatu launched the Famili i Redi (Family Ready) programme for pre-departure family training. The desired outcome from the training was to help mitigate some of the risks and vulnerabilities faced by the migrating worker. The programme encourages families to discuss their goals and intended outcomes from the worker’s migration experience together. It views the migration process from the whole family perspective, not just the individual worker and the five day course provides a range of practical tools in stress management, non-violent communication, budgeting and family financial management.

The Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) is also developing the National Labour Mobility Supply Management Strategy which includes a country wide re-integration programme for returning workers and is intended to encourage entrepreneurship. To date there have been well received pilot programmes such as Yumi-groem – managed by VLAB in partnership with the Department of Labour and sponsored by DFAT and MFAT – which provided a series of modules to a limited number of returned migrant workers. The programmes ran in 2021-22 and 2022-23 and were reportedly received well by participants. However, the modules were limited and intended to support entrepreneurs with a clear idea of their goals, only 40-50 places were available each year. The VCCI plans to develop a much wider reaching programme to promote career development, investment and the realisation of workers entrepreneurial goals. The programme will be supported by several stakeholders and will encompass a far wider group of returning workers. The strategy also proposes greater pre-departure support to workers and more opportunities for training and skills development overseas.

Undoubtedly pre-departure training has enhanced the migration experience for thousands of Pacific workers, it is now time to ensure that workers can return home equipped with skills to thrive and prosper at home. The popularity of the labour mobility schemes has grown exponentially but places are limited, there are workers who return to Australia and New Zealand year after year, reducing the opportunity for other members of their communities to gain a place, as well as reducing the possibility of creating their own livelihoods in their home countries. Re-integration programmes can equip returning migrants with the support and skills to build prosperity at home, whether through building their own businesses or finding a career path suited to them. Reducing the frequency of workers’ migration will enhance spousal relationships and welfare for the overall family unit. Educating migrants in financial management and investment will help them plan for life events and support the economy of their home nation. Is it time for the third ‘win’ to be realised for the benefit of all labour mobility workers?

Robyn Kingston, Pacific Labour Mobility and Remittances Consultant

[1] Data for New Zealand: RSE arrivals, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Data for Australia: PALM visa grants, Department of Home Affairs. PALM visa grants relate solely to visas issued in the financial year 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023. Visa grants are an underestimation of the numbers in-country in Australia as at 8 August 2023 for two reasons: workers on the long-term PLS visa can stay for up to four years; and workers on the short-term seasonal visa are granted multi-year visas which means arrivals can be higher than visa grants. Source of data – DevPolicy

Robyn Kingston

Robyn has 10+ years of experience within the remittances industry, including as Research and Data Lead, Asia-Pacific region at DMA Global, where she has worked on the World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide project and SendMoneyPacific.

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