The Public Works Department (PWD) Social Safeguards team, with support from Australia, has successfully conducted a series of workshops on Universal Social Safeguards for PWD divisional staff.

The events, held in the provinces of SHEFA, TAFEA and SANMA, brought together participants from across the six PWD divisions, primarily PWD engineers, site inspectors and officers.

Universal Social Safeguards (USS) encompass a comprehensive set of policies, procedures, and measures designed to prevent, reduce, mitigate, and/or compensate for the unintended negative impacts of infrastructure development projects, such as gender discrimination, social exclusion, environmental damage, harassment, or child abuse. The workshop focused on enabling PWD professionals to manage the social risks associated with roadworks projects, raising their awareness on related topics and providing a set of practical tools and measures that they can apply on day-to-day basis at their workplace.

The engaging sessions covered four key topics: Disability, Gender, Children’s Protection, and Environment. Participants expressed their enthusiasm for understanding how these safeguards can be applied directly to their roles at the PWD.

Samantha Lehi, a senior lab technician from SHEFA division, shared her opinion.

“The training helped me identify things that might be going wrong in the workplace, especially on-site, and know that, under MIPU’s social safeguards policies, we have the responsibility to say or do something about them,” she said.

Ms Ann Tosiro, the Senior Social Safeguards Officer at PWD, expressed her gratitude for the active participation of the workshop attendees. She commended them for going above and beyond in their presentations, asking tough questions, and emphasising real-life scenarios.

“Participants understood the importance of Social Safeguards and how they will benefit in their roles as engineers and PWD officers, particularly in their technical work with roads. The USS are significant: now engineers and officers at PWD have a clear guide of what is required from the contractor in terms of social inclusion and environmental protection, and can support them to comply with the conditions. This is an integral part of MIPU’s Inclusivity Policy,” Ms Tosiro remarked.

Lina Steele, a PWD engineer from SHEFA happily stated, “now, thanks to the scenarios and comments made during the training, I can clearly see how to apply the USS during my visits to the field and easily identify where USS are not adhered to.”

The Universal Social Safeguards workshops not only equipped participants with valuable knowledge, but also empowered them to proactively implement social safeguards in their everyday roles. This marks a significant step forward in ensuring inclusive and responsible development practices within the PWD in Vanuatu.