The impacts of seasonal worker recruitment on Solomon Islands business and industrial workforce
Like many other Pacific Islands nations, Solomon Islands has recently been greeted with what seems like a glimmer of hope after years of a myriad of complaints and criticisms over ‘job scarcity’. The Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) through the Labour Mobility Unit (LMU) appears to be the answer after all. In 2021, a CBSI report on remittance inflow recorded a 68 per cent increase from $128 million in 2020 to $215 million in 2021. This was during a period when the number of workers abroad was slightly above 2000; a figure that is expected to triple in 2023. The SWP was remarked by some leaders as a win-win scheme.
(Photo accessed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MFAET) website, at http://www.mfaet.gov.sb/external-trade/labour-mobility.html )
A recent press release on March 17 2023, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, reports that LMU received more than 15,000 submissions during the month’s recent application window; anticipating a continued increase in the remittance inflow. But while it has been greatly appreciated by many citizens – there is a looming issue of significant concern that must not be shunned by leaders: the not so talked about ‘reduction of human capital/workforce’.
So, what does the reduction of human capital have to do with the business and industrial sectors of the country? Well, our industries are very much dependent on manual labour, so the higher the number of workers leaving the country for Seasonal Work – the sooner the season of famine on human capital will arrive - significantly impacting productivity!
The notion that seasonal workers are selected from the pool of unemployed and unskilled labour, is not so much the case anymore. Today, highly-skilled, employed and qualified individuals are leaving their permanent jobs for seasonal work due to the lucrative remuneration it offers leaving home for greener pastures. This poses a great concern to business owners, entities, and stakeholders.
Is it really a ‘win-win’ scheme as trumpeted by the masses, or a system that if not properly regulated and monitored now, will hinder the effective and efficient operation of the country’s business and industrial sector? Public and privately owned construction companies, and manufacturing and packaging industries, including transport services, among others, are heavily dependent on manual labour to deliver quality products and services, yet at the expense of the country’s human capital plummeting at an exponential rate.
There is an anticipated famine looming for our human capital that’s capable of negatively impacting existing businesses’ and industry’s product delivery, quantity and quality – not to talk of its effects on the country’s economy. This may to some extent deter investors from investing in the Solomon Islands.
We are certainly not ready to receive inbound labourers to work in our factories and industries but with what the country is currently seeing, it’s a distinct possibility. There is still time for the responsible Minister to fix an order to increase the existing ‘minimum wage’ to make working locally more attractive – and it should happen immediately.