Labour migration in Pacific island countries

The Challenge

Seasonal Workers
Managing safe migration is one of the greatest challenges of our times. Of the world’s nearly 200 million migrants, the ILO estimates that 90 million men and women were migrant workers in 2005, and the figure is steadily rising. While the numbers of international migrants from, and within, the Pacific are small in overall terms, the importance of labour mobility and its impact on societies and economies in many parts of the Pacific cannot be underestimated. Pacific island communities benefit from migration through remittances, transfers of skills and knowledge, networks that can lead to entrepreneurship and new markets. While climate change threatens to destroy livelihoods and land, labour migration can produce a lifeline for some households to continue to receive income from abroad and adapt to changing circumstances.

Labour migration is a multi-faceted phenomenon which comprises temporary migration including circular movement of agricultural workers to particular countries, or migration aboard maritime and fishing vessels around the world. It comprises migration of skilled trades and professional workers, both as permanent migrants or temporary workers.

In the last few years, a growing number of Pacific island countries have begun developing national labour migration policies, or action plans to increase migration opportunities or scale of remittances. This is a positive trend; however, national capacity to implement, monitor and evaluate policies still poses a challenge.

ILO Work

 The ILO Pacific’s work in labour migration comprises technical support in the following areas.

1. Improving collection and analysis of labour migration statistics

A well-functioning policy environment requires consistent and up-to-date labour migration statistics, something that is still missing in many parts of the Pacific. The ILO is working to strengthen the relationship between, and capacity of, National Statistics Offices and Departments of Labour and has produced an important guide for labour migration statistics for policymakers and statistics organizations in the Pacific.

Work has also been done to support the national statistics organizations in Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru in order to build an information base on labour migration, and improve data collection to achieve better evidence-based policy making.

2. Strengthening countries' ability to manage the impacts of climate change on migration

With funding from the European Union, the ILO is working with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific to improve government planning in relation to climate change related migration. Rather than solely being contextualized as a last resort, migration can be viewed as an adaption strategy which allows households to diversify their incomes and thus improve resilience to the impacts of climate change; and also a way to reduce strain on resources, thus enabling members of the community to remain on their land. The ILO is working to train officials from Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru to identify potential decent work opportunities abroad as a mechanism to enable to increase development and resilience.

3. Providing analytical support to regional labour mobility negotiations

Improved regional mobility facilitated at both national and regional levels through various migration schemes will give those wishing to migrate the option to do so. The ILO is working with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) to carry out labour market assessments for the negotiation of a Temporary Movement of Natural Persons Scheme in the Pacific.

Key Resources:

International standards for the protection of migrant workers
Multilateral, bilateral agreements and MoUs on labour migration
Project: Enhancing the Capacity of Pacific Island Countries to Address the Impacts of Climate Change on Migration
Project: Improving Participation in Australia's Seasonal Worker Program in Papua New Guinea and Nauru
ILO Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration