Pacific Island communities are Australia’s near neighbours. Australia has a significant impact in the region as a neighbour, trading partner, export destination and aid provider. In many South Pacific nations economies are dominated by a small range of industries, such as tourism and agriculture. There is great potential for growth in employment and international trade in these economies.
The Pacific Growth and Employment Project supports industry growth initiatives to increase sustainable employment opportunities for Pacific Islander workers. The PGEP is a product of the Australia-International Labour Organisation Partnership Agreement for the Asia Pacific, which involves collaboration between the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
PGEP seeks to increase efficiency and productivity in the domestic workforces of Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. The project team and local project taskforces focused on the tourism industry in Vanuatu and the transport sector in PNG because these sectors were identified as most likely to support employment and economic growth if productivity and workplace efficiency are improved.
In Vanuatu the project focused on boosting skills and productivity in the tourism sector. The project partnered with Youth Challenge Vanuatu to develop a hospitality-specific job readiness curriculum and established a pilot training program that included a vocational placement in Port Vila hotels. Another pilot program provides potential future hotel managers with training to become workplace mentors and trainers.
Hotel owners and managers in Vanuatu want to broaden the skills and experience of their staff, and exposure to international-standard tourism operations helps to achieve this. PGEP worked with Carnival Cruises to establish a labour exchange that involves workers in Vanuatu hotels gaining international-standard skills by working on cruise liners during the low season working for their previous hotel employer during peak seasons onshore.
In PNG the project focussed on basic skills for workers in the transport sector. It also involved working with the government to improve the professionalism of the sector.
Employers noted that truck drivers, stevedores and plant operators sometimes obtained licences without having basic skills tested. In some cases, employees received heavy vehicle licences without having ever driven a truck or even a car. This lax testing was a result of licencing boards and trades testing boards being understaffed and underfunded.
PGEP worked with employers to identify the skills needed in the sector and engaged a training provider to conduct a pilot project focussing or maritime operations and stevedoring. A pilot program was also established to train potential future foremen and supervisors to become workplace mentors and trainers. The project is working with employers to assess the viability of establishing an industry-led driver training school for heavy vehicle drivers.
PGEP finished at the end of 2014, but many activities undertaken through the project are sustainable without external funding. The project has left a legacy in Vanuatu and PNG and offered a model for engagement with other South Pacific nations.