Urgent calls for action as labour exodus threatens economic stability

Dec 3, 2023 | Blog, News

In a stark revelation at the annual Top Executive Conference in Nadi, Fiji, the nation’s dire workforce situation took centre stage as top executives and officials addressed the alarming trend of a mass exodus of skilled workers. The situation, discussed extensively at TOPEX 2023 (November 24-25), underscores a deepening concern that poses a serious threat to Fiji’s economic stability.

The panel discussion raised deep concerns at the labour situation in Fiji.

Director of Immigration, Amelia Komaisavai, delivered a sobering presentation, highlighting an “unprecedented” need for foreign workers across all sectors of the Fijian economy. This demand has resulted from a significant departure of Fijian workers seeking opportunities abroad, creating labor vacuums that are increasingly challenging to fill. Komaisavai reported that the number of permits for foreign workers has tripled, signaling a growing reliance on migrant labor.

“At the current trend of migration into the country, migration due to employment is coming from all sectors. Before, it was restricted to certain traditional sectors like tourism and construction, but right now, the need for foreign workers or migration due to employment has gone across to all the sectors,” stated Komaisavai.

She said that the issuance of 6,000 to 7,000 passports per month indicates the scale of people leaving the country. Simultaneously, the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Finance, Shiri Krishna, revealed a staggering figure—more than 50,000 Fijians migrated in the last 18 months alone. This exodus, driven by employment opportunities and students pursuing education abroad, has prompted concerns about its potential to choke the economy.

“In the last 18 months, we have lost over 50,000 people. This is from migration and of course people going for employment purposes and also those that are going from student visas,” explained Krishna.

The situation was further illuminated by Shiri Gounder, the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Finance, who expressed deep apprehension about the declining workforce.

“We are draining an already drained labor market. And if this momentum continues, I think we as an economy, we can—it has the possibility of choking the economy so it’s important that we manage this,” warned Gounder.

Acknowledging the gravity of the issue, RC Manubhai Group CEO Uppiliappan Gopalan proposed strategic measures to address the crisis. Gopalan said the urgent need to invest in people as a crucial step to mitigate the ongoing exodus.

“Invest in people. That’s very important because that is what is going to give the golden harvest. It’s all about people,” urged Gopalan.

His call for investing in people resonates with a broader perspective that positions human capital as a cornerstone for sustainable economic growth. As Fiji grapples with the challenges of retaining skilled individuals, the urgency to implement strategic measures and prioritise its workforce becomes paramount to safeguard the nation’s economic future.