ILO in Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga joined the International Labour Organization (ILO) on 24 February 2016 as its 87th global member. In the Pacific, it is the 11th Pacific Island Country (PIC) to become a member having joined the United Nations 17 years earlier on 14 September 1999. Since becoming a member, the ILO and Tongan constituents developed Tonga's first Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) covering the years 2018 to 2022.

The tripartite stakeholders

  • The Ministry of Commerce, Consumer, Trade, Innovation and Labour (MCCTIL) as the lead government agency in Tonga with portfolio responsibility for labour and employment issues.
  • Workers’ representatives comprising representative workers’ organisations in Tonga. This includes the Tonga Public Service Association, Friendly Islands Seafarers Union, nurses’ and teachers’ association.
  • Employers’ representatives that are primarily represented by the Tonga Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  • Other stakeholders include the Council of Churches, the United Nations, the Tonga Aid Coordination Unit, the Solicitor General’s Office, and the Bureau of Statistics.

Decent Work Country Programme

The Decent Work Country Programme (DWCP) 2018-22 is a programming tool, which was developed through a series of consultations with the tripartite constituents and contains the strategy for interventions planned to be undertaken. Within the overarching theme of Decent Work for All, Tonga’s DWCP will concentrate on the following Country Programme Priorities (CPP) and Country Programme Outcomes (CPOs) for the period 2018-22:

Priority 1 – Decent and inclusive employment for a just transition

  • Outcome 1.1: Improved labour market information systems collate DW and SDG indicators and support policy decisions.
  • Outcome 1.2: Employment opportunities and employable skills are enhanced for a just transition and climate change resilience.
  • Outcome 1.3: Developing labour administration, workplace compliance and inspection mechanisms, including legal frameworks to enhance the work environment.

Priority 2 – Strong and representative employers’ and workers’ organisations influencing economic, social and governance policies

  • Outcome 2.1: Tonga’s employers increase their knowledge of the ILO to better serve their members and extend membership.
  • Outcome 2.2: Tonga’s workers increase their knowledge of the ILO to better serve their members and extend membership.

Priority 3 – Ratification and Application of International Labour Standards

  • Outcome 3.1: Tripartite constituents effectively engage and take ownership of their labour law reform and the preparation, adoption, reporting and review of international labour standards.
  • Outcome 3.2: Tripartite partners and representative organizations in the informal economy assist workers, including women, youth and disabled persons in the informal economy and facilitate a just transition into the formal economy.
  • Outcome 3.3: Tripartite constituents strengthen the regulatory framework for a sustainable delivery of Tonga’s social protection systems.
It is envisaged that Tonga’s DWCP will be signed off by June 2018.

UNPS information

The Kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian archipelago comprising 36 inhabited and 140 noninhabited islands in the South Pacific. Tonga is a constitutional monarchy and is unique among Pacific nations for having maintained its independence from colonial powers. As a consequence, Tonga retains strong national customs, including traditional social hierarchies. Over the last decade the country has undergone historic reforms to become a modern democracy. Elections were first held in 2010.

Tonga is a lower middle-income country with reasonable health and education status. Progress has been made toward attaining the MDGs, particularly in achieving universal primary education (MDG 2) and ensuring environmental sustainability (MDG 7). There is still work to be done to reduce poverty, realise gender equality, and combat NCDs. Whilst absolute poverty is not known in Tonga, increasing numbers of people are living below the basic needs poverty line; most severely on the outer islands. This indicates growing inequality and worsening outcomes for the most vulnerable.

Tonga is predominantly rural with five administrative divisions: Tongatapu (home to the capital Nuku’alofa), Vava’u, Ha’apai, ‘Eua, and Ongo Niua. Seventy per cent of the country’s 106,000 live on the main island of Tongatapu and the remaining third are spread across 700,000 square kilometres. A very high fertility rate of 3.9 per cent is offset by extreme outmigration, leading to modest population growth of 0.3 per cent. The movement of people from outer islands to urban areas, as well as high levels of emigration, and new waves of immigration, are changing the social dynamics of Tonga and in some instances undermining traditional support systems.

Tonga is reliant on external income through development assistance, loans, and overseas remittances from the large Tongan diaspora. The economy is dominated by the public sector with small amounts of private sector activity in construction, services, manufacturing, fisheries, forestry, and tourism. A large share of agricultural production is for subsistence and own production, engaging 60 per cent of the labour force and providing almost 50 per cent of food consumption for the lowest decile. Most government services are funded by aid. Falling domestic revenue as a share of GDP indicates greater dependence on budget support in the short term. A large number of Tongans participate in seasonal employment schemes in New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, in Australia.

Tonga has a mixed record on promoting gender equality and has not ratified CEDAW. No women were elected in the 2010 elections, but a woman member was appointed under the executive powers of the king. Women’s work force participation is highest in the informal sector. Two of every three women report experiencing physical violence from someone other than their partner. Ninety-eight per cent of births are attended by a skilled birth attendant. Tonga lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of dynamic geological activity. It is ranked the second most vulnerable country to natural hazards (after Vanuatu). In 2009 a tsunami inundated the Niua islands, killing nine people and causing an estimated US$10 million worth of damage to housing and infrastructure. In 2014 a category five cyclone hit the Ha’apai islands killing one person and destroying 1,000 buildings. Both hazards affected Tonga’s economic, human, and natural environment, diverting energy and resources from the country’s long-term development agenda. The effects of climate change are set to increase Tonga’s susceptibility to disasters, which threatens all aspects of sustainable development in the Kingdom.