While we have all been aware that working at Yazaki was never going to be that of a ‘happy ever after’ scenario, the announcement that the company will be closing sometime next year, was still a shock.
Especially when you did the maths.
Take 740 workers from families of say eight to 10 people who depend on that wage, and you have got anywhere up to 6,000 people of our population of 180,000 or so who will be affected.
That’s a lot of people.
Thankfully, our Cabinet Ministers Lautafi Selafi Purcell and La’aulialemalietoa Leuatea Polataivao who will be crucial in planning and assisting these people, are already offering some ideas which could in time, become solutions.
Even the Prime Minister is issuing soothing words. (see Story)
And although his idea of sending more of our people to take up work in Regional Seasonal Employment Schemes with Australia and New Zealand is something he is working on, he is ignoring a few important details.
Most of these schemes are for short term periods only and most of them mean that families are going to be separated.
He also alluded to the carpenter scheme where seven local builders were recently recruited under the Canterbury post-earthquake rebuild to work in New Zealand for 12 months.
Wonderful, but that is seven people.
We’re talking over 700 here.
Add to that the untenable situation where we don’t appear to have any arrangement which allows our people in the building industry to work here, at home.
Instead they are forced to either leave their families and go overseas, or change trades and look for other work.
During a media trip to Shanghai, China, a few years ago, one of the many questions asked of our hosts was why was there not provision in contracts made for locals in the country where they had won building tenders, to be employed.
The answer was polite and along the lines of “that is a possibility”.
Perhaps the ‘possibility’ is a conversation our Prime Minister needs to initiate, or return to.
Most of us don’t want to work and live anywhere else but here.
In the meantime, Lautafi and La’auli have brought up some pertinent facts of the present and future situation.
It is staggering to learn that supermarkets spend five million a year to bring in fresh fruit and vegetables which they cannot get locally.
And while we may not be able to grow all of that produce, we could surely make a dent in that five million he speaks of?
It would take a change of mindset to move away from just growing taro but from some of our stories in the ‘Village Voice’ features, we have people who would be willing to give it a go provided the government assured them there would be a market.
After all the marketing failures of the past (think nonu exports, pasio, etc) with regard to promises made by individuals and government, are still painfully fresh in our memories.
However some villagers are already successfully practicing what Lautafi is preaching.
“People think that when you say business you have to have a store, but you see farming, being a craftsmen and fishing is a business,” he pointed out.
Again, from the stories in the Village Voice feature, those having the most success, appear to be willing to diversify their crops according to the season and soil.
And while it gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that government is looking to attract bigger companies to investand setup in Samoa, forgive us if we don’t hold our collective breath on that one.
We have seen so many investors come and go, our heads are still spinning.
It is unbelievable that with the seeming glut of taro in the markets, we can only supply 10 containers but there is a demand for 30 containers, according to La’auli.
What is the problem and why hasn’t it been solved?
And also under the unbelievable headline, is the news that our people apparently don’t want to take jobs at sea despite it being good money because “they don’t want to go out sea for too long, they are homesick and lastly they are seasick.”
So much for us being called the Navigator Islands because of our seafaring skills.
In the lead up to the closure at Vaitele, perhaps government could follow the lead of Yazaki who are offering training and certificates in skills areas which will help their staff find jobs after 2017.
No promises, just action.