The ChallengeA shortage of comparative data on Pacific labour markets and varying definitions of employment and unemployment make it difficult to analyse and compare labour market trends. In general, Pacific labour markets are small, youthful, and largely unskilled. In the formal economy, with few exceptions, the public sector exceeds the private sector as a source of paid employment. However, and formal economies are overshadowed by their informal counterparts. Subsistence farming continues to be the primary economic activity for several countries, including Samoa and Fiji. Wide disparities in male and female employment are evident in countries like Samoa, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Republic of Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, with the ratio being almost 2:1 in Samoa.
The pattern of Pacific employment has been marked by high unemployment and underemployment with women and youth disproportionately. For example, Republic of Marshall Islands where the unemployment rate is estimated to be 31 per cent, and Kiribati where 49.8 per cent are unemployed and/or in unpaid work, with higher unemployment experienced by women and youth. Youth unemployment and underemployment is especially marked in Papua New Guinea, where it is three times higher than for the general population and chronic. The limited capacity of the formal economy could absorb an estimated 5 per cent only of 80,000 school leavers.
Across the region, a high portion of the population have limited skills and knowledge. Poor education levels are especially marked in the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, where close to one third of the population has only been schooled at primary level and less than four per cent has received tertiary level education. Skill shortages are exemplified in the expanding tourism industries in the region and in the booming energy, construction and extractive industries of Papua New Guinea. There has also been a failure to cater to the needs of the informal economy (or self-employment) where school leavers are more likely to find cash earning opportunities.
ILO ResponseTo cope with the employment challenges, the ILO has been providing the labour ministries and statistics bureaus with the technical support to improve their capacity of Labour Market Information collection and analysis as well as the formulation and implementation of employment policies. Training of labour statisticians have been organized, including the one partnering with the Statistics Unit of the South Pacific Community. The Labour Force Survey and the School-to-Work Transition study in Samoa was organized in 2012-13. The Labour Market Analysis and a series of mini-studies for new employment strategy for Fiji is under development with in collaboration with Asian Development Bank(ADB). A Human Resource Development Plan (HRD) for the Republic of the Marshall Islands has been developed and in preparation for the endorsement by the National HRD Commission.
More concerted efforts on the promotion of youth employment has been undertaken both at the regional and national levels. The ILO has been instrumental in the formulation of the Pacific Youth Employment Strategy (Pacific-YES), which was endorsed by the state leaders in the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) Annual Conference in 2011. National Youth Employment Policies have been developed and supported in Samoa (2014) and Kiribati (2012). Know About Business (KAB) training package for the promotion of youth entrepreneurship education has been adopted in secondary and vocational schools in several Countries.