Today the NZIPR released its latest report, which is on labour mobility in the Pacific.  Written by two scholars from the University of Auckland, it turns to this critical issue in the contemporary Pacific.  Examining, particularly, key labour programmes such as the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme in New Zealand and the Australian Seasonal Worker Programme, the report undertakes a systematic literature review to examine the state of present knowledge.

The report asks:

  1. What is known about the development effects (impacts, outcomes, cost-effectiveness – directly and indirectly on different stakeholders) of the RSE and the Australian Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) schemes in the Pacific since 2007?
  2. What is known about how the RSE scheme contributes to wider development aspirations of Pacific countries?
  3. What are the main gaps in the evidence on effects and on the wider development aspirations?

Ten years ago, the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme began in NZ. Over this time, research and policy reviews have analysed different aspects of international labour mobility schemes between Pacific countries and New Zealand and Australia. In 2016 the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research took stock of the studies and looked to provide robust policy tools for future action. This systematic literature review is the first stage in the development of these tools.

This systematic literature review (SLR) asks what the studies individually and collectively reveal about the economic and social value of labour mobility schemes and in particular their impact in the Pacific. This report provides the basis for a fresh understanding of the links between labour markets in Pacific countries and those in New Zealand and Australia. It also offers updated information and a familiar analytical framework for Pacific governments to develop the appropriate labour market policies for their sustainable economic development.

Director of the NZIPR, Damon Salesa, observed that ‘this report offers a cohesive and critical stocktake of the busy and important field of Pacific labour mobility. The NZIPR was fortunate to be able to call upon two Pacific scholars—Yvonne Underhill-Sem, one of the leading critical development scholars in the Pacific, and emerging Pacific scholar Evelyn Marsters—to focus our thinking about the labour market challenges faced by Pacific nations and their neighbours.’

During this study almost 200 research reports and studies were identified. Overall, commentary on the development impacts of labour mobility varied by country but also by degree of success: there were positive impacts identified in some studies, others identified negative impacts. All pointed to transformative effects. However, they also noted that research with longer time frames was needed to fully understand the nature of these effects and to provide credible policy relevant evidence. Such contradictory results are not surprising but speak to the need for a coherent framework to better position the policy relevance of different findings.

The Triple-Win Framework
In response to the different findings the authors worked with a familiar, but modified, analytical framework: “Imperatives Driving Labour Mobility Policy by Triple-Win Framework”. RSE policy predominantly follows the “triple-win” logic as a way to provide benefits to countries of origin, the destination country, and the seasonal worker. Arguably other groups that benefit are those who provide the wrap-around services such as transport operators, accommodation providers, pastoral care workers and those involved in facilitating financial services. To better understand the nature of how the triple-win logic provides development impacts and therefore invites appropriate policy, four key imperatives were identified: economic, demographic, political, and development. These imperatives drive both the gains and losses for the key stakeholders. As a framework, it will be possible to identify, for the region as well as for each country, the research knowledge and the evidence gaps.

It is expected that this SLR will create a renewed interest for continued but nuanced and policy-relevant research. Such research will be useful if it takes account of the widely used logic of ‘triple/quadruple-wins’; the different and often internally paradoxical imperatives that drive the analysis of labour markets; as well as the specificities of each country and their internal diversity. It is clear that labour mobility, and particularly RSE in New Zealand, provides people from the Pacific with the economic right to work in a developed country, it is less clear if this compensates for their loss of social and other rights in the destination country. It is important to address this issue, in all its complexity, because for economic development to be sustainable in the Pacific, the gains from having economic rights must sit equally alongside advances in the social and environmental context.