Labour Migration in Tuvalu

Labour migration is an increasingly pertinent issue in Tuvalu, due to contracting remittances brought about through decreasing number of seafarers abroad.

Project documentation | 14 April 2015
Tuvalu, with a population in March 2014 of just under 11,000 is scattered over eight inhabited atolls and reef islands totalling 26 kms2 in land area (half residing in Funafuti, the small nation’s only urban area), and has a long history of labour migration dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.

In the 1860s Peruvian slavers kidnapped unsuspecting islanders from the central Pacific, including Tuvalu, to work in mines in Latin America. Following incorporation of the islands that currently comprise the independent state of Tuvalu into the former Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (GEIC), administered by Great Britain, Tuvaluans (or Ellice Islanders as they were then known), were employed in the Colony’s capital, Tarawa (now the main urban area in Kiribati) and on the phosphate islands of Banaba (Ocean Island, also within the GEIC) and Nauru. At any one time in the 1960s and 1970s, before the GEIC split into the two independent states of Kiribati and Tuvalu, as many as 1,000 Tuvaluans were working off-shore, either on contracts or as long-term residents.

Since independence in 1979, and the cessation of phosphate mining on Banaba (1979) and Nauru (2002), labour migration off-shore has been essentially confined to contracts for seafarers trained in the country’s small Maritime Training Centre in Funafuti (a legacy of the colonial era – training seafarers for work on commercial shipping lines was initiated in Tarawa in 1967) and, since the mid-1980s on various work permit schemes in New Zealand.

In the year ended 30 June 2013 56 Tuvaluans were employed on seasonal work contracts in New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme. During 2013 the Tuvalu and Australian governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate Tuvaluan seasonal employment under Australia’s Seasonal Worker Program (SWP).

The ILO (through the EU funded Pacific Climate Change and Migration Project) has been working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tourism, Trade, Environment and Labour to develop a National Labour Migration Policy, which was approved by the Cabinet in August 2015. The Policy contains agreed activities by government and non-government stakeholders which are intended to to provide Tuvaluan citizens with increased opportunities to circulate and migrate for decent work opportunities abroad. It is recognized that temporary labour migration, as well as long-term residence overseas, to become realistic options for increasing numbers of people who wish to migrate with dignity to pursue opportunities in other countries.