Economic Partnership Agreement Talks Look At Labor Mobility To Europe
Wednesday: March 22, 2006
Negotiations for possible movement of labour from the Pacific to Europe is part of discussions under the proposed Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) currently underway.
According to Isikeli Mataitoga, head of the Pacific ACP senior officials negotiating team, the “Europeans were positive to labour mobility, also known as Mode 4 in the EPA negotiations.”
The issue is being discussed under the heading of trade across borders.
Mr Mataitoga said whilst the EU has responded positively, the decision rests with 25 members of the European Union.
“A lot of the competencies are at the level of EU member states because it concerns issues like immigration and security. But they acknowledge that as part of their commitments under the GATTS agreement of the WTO they are supposed to look at Mode 4 or trade across borders,” Mr Mataitoga told PACNEWS.
The issue that needs to be identified first is whether labour mobility will be for semi-skilled or professionals.
“One of the challenges for the Pacific now is standard setting - to test our qualifications in the international market. Firstly, to test whether our professional qualifications are recognised in Europe.”
“Most of our local grown qualifications, for example for lawyers, have not been tested in the international market. Our professional people need to start thinking about the international trade dimension of their professions,” Mr Mataitoga said.
He said in Europe, the EU would have to consider labour mobility on a sector by sector basis.
This is similar to what the Australian Senate is doing this week. Its Employment, Workplace Relations Committee is conducting an inquiry into the use of labour from the Pacific to meet seasonal employment needs of the horticultural and other agriculture industries.
Mr Mataitoga welcomed the Australian Senate initiative.
“It’s a sensible approach - doing it on a sector by sector basis. Clearly if we go for a broad all embracing arrangement, it creates a lot of uncertainty in the relevant people in authority. By beginning with a sector that clearly needs seasonal workers is a better way of focusing on economic needs, and in this case, the economic needs of Australia and at the same time addressing the needs at home.”
The Australian Senate inquiry follows renewed interest from the Pacific for seasonal workers programme to address labour shortages in many rural industries during the harvest season.
At last year’s Pacific Islands Forum, renewed pressure was put on Australia and New Zealand from Pacific nation leaders to accept seasonal agricultural workers to help their struggling economies.
The Senate inquiry will examine whether a seasonal work programme can meet labour shortages in rural Australia and advance the economic development of Pacific nations.
It will consider the likely effects of such a policy on the current seasonal workforce and the likely social effects on regional cities and towns.