Labour shortages are becoming a sticky issue for the Government – particularly in the regions. The World Bank has given the tick to proposals for unskilled Pacific guest worker programs in Australia and across the Tasman, but a new paper published by the Centre for Independent Studies argues such a scheme would do nothing for the Pacific – and further marginalise some of the most disadvantaged Australians.

Authors Helen Hughes and Gaurav Sodhi say likely guest worker numbers range from 10,000 to 38,000 – a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million unemployed or underemployed islanders.

They argue the existence of such a program would lesson the pressure on Pacific governments of the need to pursue the economic reforms necessary for long-term economic development and higher living standards.

“A guest worker scheme could not contribute significantly to Pacific living standards and, by appearing to provide a safety valve for the Pacific’s employment problems, could further delay policy reforms,” they say.

They also argue that any Pacific guest worker scheme would also seriously undermine efforts to provide employment opportunities to unskilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia.

“Not employing Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from fringe and remote communities in labour short rural Australia is an egregious anomaly. Given low literacy, numeracy and English among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander working age adults, seasonal fruit picking and processing are among the few jobs available for the transition from welfare to jobs.”

Peter Fray

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