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Questions and answers on jobs recovery and the development of decent work for people in the Pacific Islands

In February 2010, at Port Vila, Vanuatu, Labour Ministers, Senior Labour officials and representatives of worker and employer organizations from all eight countries – Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu – as well as Australia and New Zealand – took part in the first high-level gathering of its kind. After two days of rich debate a tripartite accord was adopted – The Port Vila Statement on Decent Work and the Pacific Action Plan for Decent Work. ILO Online spoke to Ms. Sachiko Yamamoto, the ILO’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific about the accord and development plans in the Pacific.

Article | 11 January 2010

ILO Online: What is the situation in the Pacific Islands region and how did the global economic and financial crisis affect its people?

Sachiko Yamamoto: The Pacific Island member States (Note 1) are spread far and wide over thousands of kilometers of ocean. Their isolation – the distance from major markets – means they have on-going issues such as high unemployment rates in some countries – especially for youth. The global economic and financial crises have taken their tolls here as elsewhere. While the populations of these islands are relatively small, their economies to a large degree are informal – so there is little social protection to provide a safety net during a sudden downturn in the economy. While exports do not form a large part of GDP compared to other countries in Asia, remittances from family members who work abroad do. Those remittances have declined as migrant workers abroad have themselves struggled to maintain or find work in the developed economies.

ILO Online: What is the situation for young people living in the region?

Sachiko Yamamoto: Unemployment and underemployment are major issues. For example, the Solomon Islands with a population of just over half a million people has a youth unemployment rate of 46% (1999). That’s a major issue for a small country, especially since nearly 40% of the population is below 15 years of age and also approaching working age. This ‘youth bulge’ means that both unemployment and underemployment will be major issues to address.

ILO Online: The Constituents – Governments, Worker and Employer Organizations – have adopted an action plan. What have they agreed and how will it be implemented?

Sachiko Yamamoto: Even before the crisis unfolded the ILO had been working closely with the eight member States in the Pacific on Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCP) which aims to strengthen societies and foster long-term development by improving access to decent and dignified work. In 2007, during a regional meeting organized by the ILO , the member States agreed to pursue a bottom-up approach where national policies and priorities were developed in each country through these DWCPs. The next step was to link them together in a regional framework for the Pacific Islands. The Pacific Action Plan, adopted in Vanuatu in February of 2010, marries the decent work agenda for development with the more immediate responses to the jobs crisis. The member States have agreed to implement the Global Jobs Pact adopted by the International Labour Conference in June 2009 which offers a series of responses to get people working again, mitigate the effects of unemployment and promote sustainable economic growth that benefits the majority of society.

ILO Online: What will be the main focus of the action plan?

Sachiko Yamamoto: There are four commonly agreed priority areas that are derived from the Decent Work Agenda in the Pacific: improvement of labour market governance; employment and growth; expanding the scope of social partners; and building capacity for all three groups – Governments, worker and employer organizations. Since women account for less than one-third of all workers in the formal economy of the Pacific Islands, it has been agreed that gender equity must underpin the actions taken in all priority areas. The Pacific Action Plan also presents an opportunity for Pacific Island countries to address serious challenges presented by climate change through mitigation and adaptation of programmes generated to focus on Green Jobs. Under the four common agreed priority areas, a specific series of 36 outputs are defined with a completion date of 2015, including one that aims for all Pacific Island member States to have ratified all eight ILO Core Conventions.

ILO Online: How does the Pacific Action Plan measure up to other on-going development initiatives?

Sachiko Yamamoto: Regional cooperation is a priority to recover from the crisis but also to ensure that longer term development is coordinated both nationally and regionally. The Pacific Action Plan will directly contribute to the Millennium Development Goals by helping to reduce poverty. It provided inputs to the Pacific Conference on ‘The Human Face of the Global Economic Crisis’ and will be implemented within the United Nations Development Assistance Framework for the Pacific.

ILO Online: Are there any major obstacles?

Sachiko Yamamoto: As mentioned, youth unemployment and underemployment will remain challenges for some time to come, especially as the populations of the Pacific Island countries continue to grow. While outbound migration may continue, and remittances of those already abroad may once again increase, those left behind – such as youth and the elderly and lower skilled will continue to need special attention. But implementation of the Action Plan and responses offered in the Global Jobs Pact can help to mitigate the worst effects. Climate change and/or varying climatic conditions could affect agriculture, living conditions and infrastructure. There will be an on-going need for technical cooperation and resource mobilization.

Note 1There are presently eight member States of the ILO across the Pacific with an estimated labour force of approximately 3.5 million people.