PORT VILA, Vanuatu - Joe Kalwaski is one of the thousands of seasonal labour migrants from Vanuatu, participating in seasonal work schemes in Australia and New Zealand. While abroad, he experienced first-hand that labour migration comes with its own set of challenges both for him and his family, including settling in a new environment, handling finances, managing long-distance relationships and changes in family dynamics, which may lead to tension and violence. 

For over a decade, tens of thousands of labour migrants from Vanuatu have participated in seasonal work in Australia and New Zealand (*). For most of them, these opportunities have been a gateway to fulfilling their and their family’s dreams and aspirations. 

“While engaged in seasonal work, we want the labour migrants to have healthy communication with their families back home, earn income, learn new skills so when they return to Vanuatu they can apply those skills and invest those remittances.” - Labour Commissioner for the Vanuatu Department of Labour, Murielle Meltenoven

However, while there are significant benefits to the labour migrants and their host countries, it comes with risks and vulnerabilities, which impact not only the migrants but also their families, these include gender based-violence and shifting dynamics. 

According to the Labour Commissioner for the Vanuatu Department of Labour, Murielle Meltenoven, many workers are facing social challenges because of the long-distance relationship, which includes alcohol consumption and misuse of money.

“While engaged in seasonal work, we want the labour migrants to have healthy communication with their families back home, earn income, learn new skills so when they return to Vanuatu they can apply those skills and invest those remittances," said Ms. Meltenoven.

To prevent and mitigate some of the risks and vulnerabilities faced by migrants and their families, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), World Vision Vanuatu and the Vanuatu Department of Labour (DOL), with support from the Spotlight Initiative, IOM Development Fund (IDF), the Australian Government, and the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP), have created the Famili i Redi (Family Ready) programme.

Through a series of pre-departure workshops, Famili i Redi aims to prevent violence in migrants’ families, by exploring the challenges of migration for migrants and their families, and the multiple facets of a healthy relationship.

 

The 5-day workshop is designed to help participants maximise the socio-economic benefits of labour mobility and reduce the risk of gender-based violence through a curriculum which emphasises emotional intelligence, non-violent communication, stress management and constructive decision-making, as well as goals- and expectations-setting, managing finances & remittances skills. Modules also include some practical recommendations on healthy behaviours regarding nutrition, alcohol consumption, and COVID-19.

“Through this workshop, I have learnt the importance of working together with my partner, we have goals which we want to achieve and in order to do that we need to work together and communicate with each other,” said Mr. Kalwaski.

“Through this workshop, I have learnt the importance of working together with my partner, we have goals which we want to achieve and in order to do that we need to work together and communicate with each other.”  - Joe Kalwaski, seasonal worker

In 2021, ten workshops were delivered, reaching a total of 375 participants. By involving both migrant workers and their partners or close family members in the migration preparation phase, and by equipping them with new knowledge and skills, the journey through migration can become a growth opportunity for the entire family.

Workshop participant Fiona Emily acknowledged the importance of the training and said the key takeaway for her was the importance of trust and communication. 

“When you are working overseas, away from family, differences with families or loved ones can impact productivity. Through this training, I have learnt about the importance of trust and communication and I am determined to achieve the goals I have set with my family,” Ms Emily said. 

Preliminary results from follow-up surveys and interviews, scheduled 2-3 months after the workshop, show 70% of respondents indicating that their relationship with their partner had significantly improved after the workshop, 75% indicating that they understood significantly more about the different forms of violence than before, and 70% indicating that they had already used the stress management strategies taught during the workshop – strategies which support constructive decision-making and help reduce the risk of violence.

The Spotlight Initiative is a global initiative of the United Nations, which has received generous support from the European Union. Its aim is to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Footnote:
(*) Before COVID-19 travel restrictions, approximately 24,000 men and women travelled from the Pacific and Timor-Leste to Australia and New Zealand each year to participate in seasonal worker programmes. 

By Cristina Comunian