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Guest workers: A poor solution to labour shortage


Guest workers: A poor solution to labour shortage

Proposals to introduce unskilled guest worker programs in Australia and New Zealand are gaining support, including from the World Bank. But little consideration has been given to the long-term social and economic costs to both host and home countries.

In a paper to be released on Thursday 7 September, Should Australia and New Zealand Open Their Doors to Guest Workers From the Pacific? Costs and Benefits, Helen Hughes and Gaurav Sodhi argue that guest worker schemes bring high costs, and few benefits.

Advocates of a Pacific guest worker program claim it is a win-win deal, but likely guest worker numbers range from 10,000 to 38,000 – a tiny fraction of the 1.5 million unemployed and underemployed Pacific islanders who such schemes would claim to help.

“For most Pacific islanders a Pacific guest worker scheme would thus be a cruel deception.”

Guest worker schemes would relieve Pacific governments of the need to pursue economic reforms, the only real guarantee of long-term economic development and higher living standards in the Pacific.

“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.”

A Pacific guest worker scheme would also seriously undermine efforts to provide employment opportunities to unskilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, and to unskilled Pacific islanders already resident in New Zealand.

“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.”

“Seasonal work could also provide transitional employment opportunities for unskilled Pacific islanders resident in New Zealand”.

A guest worker scheme would undermine already successful migration policies.

“Considerable numbers of Pacific islanders have successfully settled in Australia and New Zealand and they should continue to be welcomed as long term immigrants. A guest worker scheme would move away from proven immigration models.”

The World Bank’s pressure on developed countries to accept more immigrants will bring little of benefit to Australia, New Zealand, or Pacific island nations. Instead, the failure to pursue genuine reforms in the Pacific will lead to ever increasing social problems and political instability.

Helen Hughes is a Senior Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies and an Emeritus Professor of the Australian National University. Gaurav Sodhi is a Research Assistant at The Centre for Independent Studies. Both authors are available for comment.

Embargoed copies of the report Should Australia and New Zealand Open Their Doors to Guest Workers From the Pacific? Costs and Benefits are available on request or from the CIS website:



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