Over the last decade, international labour mobility schemes involving Pacific island workers in New Zealand and Australia have continued to attract considerable attention from researchers and policy makers. Since the publication of Labour Mobility in the Pacific: A Systematic Literature Review of Development Impacts, there has been a deepening of understanding of the complexity of economic, social, cultural and political impacts of seasonal labour mobility programmes in the Pacific.

These development impacts require on-going, systematic and robust analysis at all scales (from individuals to countries), over various time periods (from immediate, to medium- and long-term time frames) and in all countries of the Pacific. Critical to this analysis is the need to understand the dynamics of domestic labour markets in the Pacific and the intersecting impacts especially in relation to gender and climate change. These are shifting in many and various ways as a result of demographic, economic, political, development and environmental imperatives. This means, to deliver sustainable economic development and social wellbeing, policy frameworks for labour mobility need to take into account both the frequently mentioned wins as well as less-often recognised and acknowledged losses.

This research report focuses on seasonal labour mobility in three countries – Kiribati, Fiji and Tonga – in the context of a policy assessment framework that addresses both wins and losses when considering a sustainable future for labour mobility in the Pacific. It contains broad country-specific recommendations for policy makers both in the Pacific as well as in New Zealand. The report also draws attention to the need for a closer analysis of labour markets given that workers from Pacific island countries also travel for other types of work, including to countries other than New Zealand or Australia. Moreover, Bedford and Ingram (2018) indicate that there is a high likelihood of an increasing demand for seasonal workers in New Zealand and Australia. Further, Bedford and Ingram show that if the same demographic cohorts (males aged 20–39) continue to dominate the seasonal work flows, there will be a notable impact on domestic labour markets, with direct and indirect implications for social and economic development in home countries.

After more than 10 years, the seasonal work schemes are well-established in Australia and New Zealand, so it is timely to review the often-cited “triple-win” framework that underpinned the first generation of policies. In this report we argue that a “quadruple win-loss” framework provides a more nuanced analytical lens to understand the multi-dimensional nature of contemporary labour mobility in the Pacific.

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