Improving Employment Opportunities in Pacific Island Economies
Bangkok (UN Information Services) – Governments of Pacific island economies need to review labour legislation in efforts to reduce youth unemployment and promote women in the workforce, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) reports in its latest regional survey.
The Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2008 says the legislation needs to respond to changing macroeconomic and business conditions. But while recognizing the need for change, the Survey also calls for the maintenance of adequate protection for workers. There is also a need to raise skill development programmes.
The Survey says that for improvements in labour market conditions to occur, governments should look to economic and structural reforms to boost growth, cut high rates of unemployment, especially among the young, create more jobs for women and expand training and industry promotion activities.
The Survey warns that rising population growth in the Pacific island economies is set to add pressure “on fragile ecosystems and the limited available land, as well as on infrastructure such as water supply and on public services such as education and health.”
There are signs that a growing number of young and educated people “with aspirations beyond village-based and family-oriented agriculture and fishing” will have greater difficulty in finding employment, especially in the more populous countries of the Pacific island region.
“The populations of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands are forecast to grow substantially by 2029,” the Survey says, adding that high migration rates will ease population pressures on the Cook Islands.
Also, public sector employment is unlikely to grow much more with a backdrop of declining aid and public sector reforms, while private sector activity is limited. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu all require substantial improvements in the investment environment, or the prospects for private sector growth will remain tight.
The Pacific island region also faces widespread underemployment with many people engaged in subsistence and small-scale cash-cropping activities and with few opportunities as they are often hampered by a lack of skills and access to high quality-education and training facilities.
In addition, more jobs need to be found for women in formal employment. Women already face gender issues that result in low labour force participation rates. Youth unemployment is also widespread among the 15 to 24 age group. “In the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, youth unemployment is especially acute,” and many youth have no choice but to join the informal employment sector.
Migration of skilled workers has been a feature of some Pacific island developing countries. “Remittances now account for a high proportion of the gross national income in these countries,” the Survey notes.
Also recommended is a greater role for social security arrangements or unemployment benefit schemes. “Many have national provident funds, provide by acts of Parliament, requiring employees and employers to contribute. But because these schemes cover only formal sector employees, most people working in the informal sector are not covered,” the Survey says.
Many of the Pacific island developing economies are revising and updating their labour legislation, with the aim of reflecting changing market conditions.
But improving labour market flexibility while maintaining adequate protection for workers as well as the institutional changes needed to make the labour market more efficient “will require considerable political will,” the Survey notes.
It adds that “governments are vital in promoting efficient labour markets. Legislation for labour and employment needs to be reviewed and updated to respond to changing macroeconomic and business conditions.”
As the region's most comprehensive annual review of economic and social developments, ESCAP's Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific provides the only independent source of analysis covering all countries in this vast and diverse region, and considers both the social and economic spheres of development. The 2008 Survey, entitled “Sustaining Growth and Sharing Prosperity” looks at the most critical issues, challenges and risks our region faces in the months ahead.
Headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand, ESCAP is the largest of the UN's five Regional Commissions in terms of membership, population served and area covered. The only inter-governmental forum covering the entire Asia-Pacific region, it aims to promote economic and social progress.