New Zealand is expected to increasingly come under pressure to accept temporary workers from fast-growing Pacific countries like Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
The looming problem of Melanesian countries’ mushrooming populations was highlighted by many speakers at a Pacific Cooperation Foundation conference on Pacific labour mobility held in Wellington yesterday.
Their population growth is far outstripping that of Polynesian and Micronesian countries, with Papua New Guinea’s population expected to double in the next 25 years. Professor Richard Bedford, of the University of Waikato, said by the year 2050 the population of Melanesian countries would account for one-third of the Pacific region’s population.
Most sobering was that Papua New Guinea had very limited potential for employment growth. It was a large country but many parts were not easily farmed, the youth did not necessarily see a future in faming and there were very limited outlets for emigration of surplus labour, he said.
Figures for the year ending June 2005 showed that only 431 out of the 6400 approvals for residence for temporary work or study granted in New Zealand were for Melanesians and about half were for students. Mary Anne Thompson, Department of Labour deputy secretary workforce, agreed Papua New Guinea’s issues needed a closer look.
Immigration Minister David Cunliffe said while labour mobility issues were being investigated, there had been no decisions in favour of new temporary work opportunities because it was not clear the advantages outweighed the disadvantages.
Dr Manjula Luthria, senior economist for the World Bank, said the projections of people in the Pacific expected to be unemployed or underemployed was a major concern.
Dr Carmen Voigt-Graf, of the University of the South Pacific, said the migration of skilled workers could exacerbate unemployment levels for the unskilled workers left behind.