Guest Worker Scheme Harmful: Think Tank (Australia)

Guest worker scheme harmful: thinktank
September 7, 2006 – 1:04AM
The Age (Melbourne)

A Pacific guest worker scheme would take away the few employment opportunities available to Australia's long-term unemployed, a conservative thinktank says.

The Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) has released a report on proposals for a guest worker program.

The concept, which is not supported by the government, would allow Pacific islanders to fill unskilled job vacancies in Australia for short periods before returning home.

“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,” the report says.

The World Bank doesn't agree.

“… Allowing some Pacific Islanders access to jobs currently unfilled in the larger economies of the region could contribute significantly to the economic and social wellbeing of the workers, their families and wider communities,” senior World Bank economist Dr Manjula Luthria said on August 14.

But the authors of the CIS report, Helen Hughes and Gaurav Sodhi, disagree, say a guest worker scheme could undermine 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,” the authors said in a joint statement.

Their findings are based on the outcome of a cost-benefit analysis.

The analysis says the economic windfall that a guest worker scheme would deliver to Pacific Islanders would be countered by high social costs for Australia's long-term unemployed.

“Neglecting domestic sources of employment ratchets up welfare rolls and unskilled immigration numbers at the cost of economic efficiency and equity,” the report says.

“The policy challenge is to unlock this supply with welfare reforms.”