Expanded Pacific Labour Schemes Could Fill Looming Aged Care Gap

A looming severe shortage in aged care workers in Australia and New Zealand could be solved by welcoming more skilled employees from neighboring Pacific Island countries, according to a new report released by the World Bank.

The report Expanding Pathways for Pacific Islanders in the Australian and New Zealand Aged Care Sectors, outlines the expected labour requirements of aged care providers; determines the steps required for Pacific Island countries to supply the relevant skills sets; and suggests a model that uses both new and existing migration pathways to deliver more skilled workers. The report comes following the rollout of the Australian government’s new Pacific Labour Scheme, which aims to open up jobs to Pacific Islanders in sectors beyond agriculture, including aged care.

“This study highlights yet another sector where growing needs can be met with a young, educated and enthusiastic Pacific workforce,” said Michel Kerf, Country Director for Papua New Guinea and Pacific Islands. “We hope this report can be used as a tool for policy makers to find ways in which workers from the Pacific can effectively engage in the Australian and New Zealand aged care sectors.”

“We welcome this week’s announcement, at the Pacific Islands Forum, of expanded access to the Australian Pacific Labour Scheme for Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu,” said Kerf. “This is a positive move that will further strengthen our region’s close ties, and one that will provide life-changing benefits to thousands of Pacific families.”

In Australia and New Zealand, it is expected that existing aged care services will not be able to deliver the quantity and quality of services needed over the coming decades. There are currently 366,000 aged care workers in Australia, with the number required expected to be between 830,000 and 1.3 million by 2050. In New Zealand, the aged care workforce is expected to grow by 50 to 75 percent over the coming 15 years.

In contrast, neighboring Pacific Island countries face a vastly different demographic change, with relatively high fertility rates and growing populations resulting in a ‘youth bulge’ of young people seeking employment. Constraints to economic growth in some Pacific Island nations ultimately means that the number of people entering the labour force will far exceed the number of domestic jobs, which is where expanded employment opportunities in Australia and New Zealand could deliver a win-win situation for workers and employers.

To ensure the potential benefits of employing more Pacific Islanders in aged care roles are realized, the report made a number of key observations to guide further research and policy development, including:

  • Engaging aged care industry groups and workers in the rollout and design of new preferential Pacific labor migration pathways; and where feasible, creating specific pathways for migrants to enter the aged care sector in New Zealand beyond the broad access points (Essential Skills visa policy, Pacific Access Category etc.);
  • Expanding the Pacific Labour Scheme in Australia, which will provide critical opportunities for aged care workers, by both removing annual caps and broadening the scheme to other participating countries in the region.

The report, Expanding Pathways for Pacific Islanders in the Australian and New Zealand Aged Care Sectors follows Maximizing the Development Impacts from Temporary Migration: Recommendations for Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme launched in March 2018, and The Social Impacts of Seasonal Migration: Lessons from Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme launched in May 2018.

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