EU and UN Work Together to Compile Labour Migration Legislation for Eleven Pacific Countries

Climate change, sea-level rise and ocean acidification are having profound effects across the Pacific. It is difficult to predict the exact impacts of climate change on migration in the Pacific, but many academic studies predict that climate change could have a profound effect on future migration patterns.

According to Iosefa Maiava, Head of the ESCAP Pacific Office, “Understanding current labour migration policies is a critical part of being able to develop national and regional strategies for managing the impacts of climate change on the movement of people in the Pacific.” Against this backdrop, the European Union, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Office for the Pacific and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Pacific Office launched the Compendium of Labour Migration Legislation and Institutional Arrangements for Pacific Island Countries at the Grand Pacific Hotel on 19 August 2014.

“Labour migration is a critical issue in the Pacific. Whether it is seasonal migration to Australia and New Zealand; the employment of seafarers on foreign vessels; nurses, peacekeepers and accountants working in the US, the Middle East or closer to home in the Pacific, labour migration can bring a number of important benefits including the transfer of remittances, investment, skills and technology, that can stimulate development in migrants’ home countries,” said David Lamotte, the Director of the ILO Country Office for the Pacific. He continued, “labour migration is also relevant to a family's resilience to climate change and environmental degradation – as remittances are often used as a stable source of income diversification, to build disaster-proof housing, or to restart a business destroyed or degraded by environmental effects”.

"Migration is not only a last resort coping mechanism to climate change, but can also be a valuable strategy in the face of the likely impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of Pacific people. Labour migration is an important adaptation strategy for Pacific Islanders – reducing strain on local resources, diversifying a household’s income and providing skills and training opportunities. These benefits can be particularly important for people living in areas vulnerable to the impacts of environmental degradation," said Andrew Jacobs, the European Union's Ambassador for the Pacific.

Labour migration must be a carefully managed process if it is achieve benefits for workers and protect their rights against exploitation and abuse. At the same time, regulations (particularly in the receiving countries) must not be so stringent and burdensome as to prevent migration altogether. Ms Sabina Lauber, (Officer in Charge, UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights) discussed the relevance of international human rights law to national laws, which can protect migrants’ rights. The issue of loss of skills in sending countries is another important area for policy consideration. However, as noted by Mr Tobias Haque (Economist, World Bank), restrictions on migration, including through protection of domestic labour markets, may be a detriment to a country’s development.

The Compendium of Labour Migration Legislation and Institutional Arrangements for Pacific Island Countries forms a valuable resource to continue these discussions. By compiling, for the first time, legislation and institutions which govern labour migration into, and out of, eleven Pacific Island countries this resource allows a better understanding of countries’ legislation, institutions and policies on migration, and provides a foundation from which to analyse gaps and areas for reform, or cross-country comparison.

The Compendium is a product of a three year, EU-funded project on Pacific climate change and migration, entitled Enhancing the Capacity of Pacific Island Countries to Manage the Impacts of Climate Change on Migration (2013-2016). This project aims to understand the potential impacts of climate change on migration, migration policies and how people in the Pacific view migration with the aim to use the information to identify policy entry-points for developing whole of Government approaches toward climate change and migration. In this respect, one aspect of this project is to build the knowledge base on labour migration, and to facilitate opportunities for workers, including temporary labour migration opportunities.