A mission to help workers

By Sarafina Sanerivi ,

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SAMOA FIRST UNION: Executive Members of S.F.U with Dr. Katie Hepworth (middle front) in Samoa.

SAMOA FIRST UNION: Executive Members of S.F.U with Dr. Katie Hepworth (middle front) in Samoa.

Educating the workers in Samoa about the minimum wage they are entitled to and the worker’s rights at their workplaces is one of the issues Samoa First Union is addressing, as the union celebrates its first year anniversary this month. 

Samoa's first private sector union which was officially launched last year in June is now working with Unions from Geneva, Australia and New Zealand to address this issue. 

The Project Officer for Apheda in Australia, Dr. Katie Hepworth, said the Union Aid Abroad and other international unions are excited to be supporting the work by the Samoa first Union.

“Samoa First Union will educate workers about workers entitlements under Samoan law,” said Dr. Katie 

This includes the minimum wage and the contributions employees should be receiving from employers. 

“Every week our team of organisers will be speaking to workers, talking to them about their conditions and what they are entitled to. If workers aren’t receiving their entitlements, they will be able to speak to the union to lodge a grievance.

 “Apheda and other international agencies have come on board to support Samoa First Union and their work.

“We now have a strong board of executive in the Samoa First Union, with Mavaega Mavaega as the President and we now have two new organisers. And we are excited to work with them in addressing these issues. Some of these provisions are already under the Samoan law but have not been enforced and we are looking at enforcing those laws, regarding minimum wage and entitlement in Samoa.”

According to Dr. Katie, the appointment of the new leadership was made in December 2015. The leadership was appointed at the last S.F.U AGM, through a vote by members. 

Funds will be provided by APHEDA and the international unions in supporting the union and their work. This includes funding a legal counsel and two organisers to work on the projects by S.F.U. 

“The legal counsel will review workers’ grievances, and support them to lodge complaints with MCIL. We will also provide training to the organisers and the national executive so that they can become a strong voice for workers in Samoa.”

Before the National Election in March this year, the Samoa First Union pushed for at $3.00 rate campaign, and that campaign is still continuing at the moment.  

According to Dr. Katie, the campaign saw up to a 1000 members who signed up in the first week of the campaign. 

“The purpose of the campaign is to let the workers and the people aware that there is a minimum wage in Samoa. And I think the campaign kicked off really well, creating awareness for our workers who are not getting what they are entitled to get. Because we’ve been getting a lot of people approaching S.F.U about being underpaid and not getting what they should get.”

S.F.U is now looking at getting an agreement or signing a memorandum of understanding with the International companies in Samoa to help us with this campaign. 

However, according to Dr. Katie, there are some international companies who are paying their employees more than the minimum wage here in Samoa, and they are hoping to get more companies on board. 

Calculating what the living wage in Samoa should be is one of the major task the union is now working on at the moment. 

“A living wage is usually set by looking at what a ‘basket of goods’ would cost for an average family. 

“We would calculate what it costs the average family to purchase sufficient food for a week, and to meet other basic costs (rent, phone, electricity). This is then used to determine a living wage for workers in Samoa. This will also determine if there are people living under the poverty line or not.”

Moreover, Dr. Katie believes that this particular push from S.F.U is a big step in addressing the issue of poverty and inequality in Samoa. 

“Under Samoan law, workers are entitled to a minimum wage of $2.32 per hour, and NPF contributions of 12% of their wage,” she said.

“Since S.F.U was launched in June 2015, many workers have come to the union saying that they are being paid below the minimum wage and that their employer has not paid their contributions, or that they haven’t been paid the overtime that is required. Samoa First Union is dedicated to ensuring that workers get what they are entitled to, which is the first step in addressing poverty and inequality in Samoa.

“A lot of people coming through with labour grievances and that’s what we are focusing at at the moment, so that the workers of Samoa are getting what they are entitle to.”

© Samoa Observer 2016

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