Labour migration a two-sided coin – economist

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Seasonal workers at the closing of the Pre-Departure briefing under the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme at the Khatriya hall in Suva last year. Picture: ATU RASEA/FT FILE

When what may benefit the individual could disadvantage the nation, timely decisions from leaders and policymakers become equal parts complicated and crucial.

Labour migration as an area of concern for Fiji was among the key points of discussion at the 2023 ADB Asian Think Tank Development Forum.

“I think labour shortage is a two-sided coin,” Asian Development Bank (ADB) chief economist and director general of its Economic Research and Development Impact Department Albert Park said.

“On the one hand, it’s being driven by increased migration to Australia and New Zealand, which is a good thing for the individuals to have greater opportunities with much higher incomes than they would if they stayed in Fiji,” he said.

“It helps them, and remittances help their families, and so broadly from a development perspective those are all positives,” Mr Park continued, “but it does create real challenges for supporting businesses”.

Mr Park acknowledged the obstacles labour shortage presents to maintaining and expanding the industries the nation’s economy may be reliant on.

“Businesses can’t find enough workers to maintain the activities they have been engaged in and it’s even harder to expand those activities if you don’t have workers with the right skillsets,” he said.

“And so, I think the government needs to be active in thinking about a strategy for addressing the solutions.”

Mr Park suggested several possible solutions for the Government to explore, including revising stringent immigration laws to allow foreign workers to fill the skill gaps left by migrating locals, and engaging individuals who have thus far been relegated to the fringes of economic activity.

“It could be training Fijians on the skills that are lacking in the labour market.

“It could also mean mobilising more labour from sources that have not been participating as much in the formal economic sector: people from rural areas, women, older persons, to think about ways in which they can make meaningful contributions to the economy.”

Additionally, Mr Park highlighted that emigration also presents opportunities for former Fiji residents to someday re-invest in Fiji with new high-productivity businesses.

Truly a double-edged sword, the heavy outflow of skilled workers remains a key concern for Fiji.

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