Friday, June 5, 2009

Pacific ministry targets women in battle against rising unemployment

A long-term action plan about Pasifika employment in New Zealand is counting on a new report focusing on Pacific women’s demographics, education, and training and labour force deployment in the strategic mix.

By Kacey Maher: Pacific Media Centre

A better deal for Pasifika women in the labour market is a key target for the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs in a new employment strategy expected to be unveiled later this month.

A report about “Pacific women’s work” is expected to be released before June 30 and is likely to have an impact on policy.

Pacific Island Affairs Minister Georgina te Heuheu is finalising the research report “examining the labour market positioning” of Pacific women.

Chief Executive Dr Colin Tukuitonga says the ministry has a long-term action plan and the report focusing on Pacific women’s demographics, education, and training and labour force deployment is part of this.

According to Tukuitonga, understanding the position of Pacific women in New Zealand’s labour market will help lift women’s skills and participation.

“For example, by better understanding the impact of the current recession on Pacific women who own small businesses, the ministry…is better able to develop programmes and initiatives which are effective in sustaining those businesses,” he says.

Compared to a 5 percent unemployment rate for all of New Zealand (a quarterly increase of 0.3 percent from December 2008 to March 2009), the rate of unemployment for Pacific Islanders within New Zealand has now climbed to 13.1 percent.

This not only has Pacific Island community members worried, it also has them searching for solutions, especially starting and only a worsening recession on the horizon.

“It has been suggested that almost 19,000 jobs have already been lost in the manufacturing sector between March 2008 and March 2009,” says Dr Tukuitonga.

Hit by downturn
Pacific workers are concentrated in primary industries (such as agriculture, fishing, mining) and manufacturing - occupations that are among the first to feel a downturn in the economy.

Dr Tukuitonga says also that the predominantly youthful population of the Pacific Islanders is among reasons they are among the hardest hit.

With a recent increase in Pacific Islanders reaching a working age combined with a corresponding fall in the jobs they are most likely to enter, it is no surprise this leads to unemployment.

Dr Tukuitonga, previously the Director of Public Health as also head of Pacific and international health at the University of Auckland, has been chief executive of the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs since June 2007.

According to him, this increase in unemployment will have many greater consequences, putting Pacific Islanders under increased financial pressure and making them less able to provide basic food, housing, education, and health requirements - all areas where Pacific Islanders are already statistically struggling.

Recent studies have shown Pacific Island children are more likely than their European counterparts to contract infectious diseases and suffer from childhood obesity - results inflated by a higher ratio of Pacific Islanders living in low socio-economic status.

Situations such as these will only be exacerbated by high rates of unemployment.

“All this makes the current situation a high priority for the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs,” Dr Tukuitonga says.

So what is the ministry doing to help?

“We have put in place a number of initiatives and pilots to combat redundancies and an increasing unemployment rate,” says Dr Tukuitonga.

Jobs fono
This includes the February 2009 Pacific jobs fono.

The jobs fono was a conference focused on brainstorming possible solutions for the immediate concerns facing Pacific workers.

According to Dr Tukuitonga, the fono addressed such questions as “how do we protect employment for Pacific people?” and “what support is there for those people who have lost their jobs?” - similar questions to those being asked now.

The fono also addressed the need for Pacific workers to adapt to current job openings and new job requirements.

Instead of remaining in fields historically dominated by Pacific workers - fields that are now seeing a sharp decline - workers must train for new fields or develop specific skills that increase their value as employees.

These suggestions combined with other conferences and surveys provide the basis for the ministry’s action plan, says Dr Tukuitonga. This plan includes:

• Training in literacy, numeracy, and financial literacy
• Administrative and management training
• Seminars and workshops to help businesses survive the recession
• Research on what industries will stabilise and grow the economy
• Promoting modern apprenticeships to Pacific youths

All these developments answer the question “how do we protect employment for Pacific people?”

However, none answer the more immediate question about what support there is for people who have lost their jobs.

Dr Tukuitonga says that Pacific unemployment will continue to rise as the recession takes a stronger hold on New Zealand.

He also says the ministry has many more programmes in the works - all of them targeting a wide array of problems caused by unemployment.

“The challenges faced by the Pacific workforce in today’s recessionary climate require innovative and creative solutions which not only keep Pacific people in work now,” says Dr Tukuitonga.

“But they also also equip them with a range of diverse skills which will see them well placed in a future labour market requiring different skills and abilities.”

Kacey Maher is an American student journalist on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course as part of her Study Abroad programme at AUT University. The photo is by Daquella Manera (Creative Commons).

Pacific jobs fono

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