It’s an issue of morals and principles

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

There is no doubt about it. Not a single person in Samoa would say no to a plan to raise the minimum wage.

This close to the General Elections, this kind of talk is music to the ears of voters and candidates alike. 

Indeed, the idea would be welcomed, embraced and loved by the politicians, who are already promising the sun and the moon for those votes. 

As a matter of fact, the issue has already been trumpeted as a campaign point for the Tautua Samoa Party.

Now in yesterday’s edition of your Samoa Observer, the Coordinator of the Samoa First Union, Jerome Mika, made an excellent case for an increase of the minimum wage to $3. 

In doing so, the Union joined a growing chorus of people calling for this “injustice” to be dealt with. 

“Lifting the minimum wage is about fairness and equal relationships,” Mr. Mika argued in a column he wrote for this newspaper. 

“We’re proud to be joining the growing chorus of voices who are calling on the Government to lift the minimum wage.” 

“While profits are rising for many businesses, wages aren’t. A handful of wealthy overseas-based companies are creaming it while Samoans see their hard work, ingenuity and perseverance not rewarded in the way it should.” 

According to Mr. Mika, the minimum wage ought to reflect a fair return on work.

“Samoa has so much good work to be done, roads to be paved, kids to be taught, tourists to be hosted,” he said. 

“But when people are not paid enough to sustain their families and villages, or told to work more for less, then the workplace and the country isn’t running fairly.” 

“We can’t forget the principle of equal relationships. We cannot allow anyone to be paid less than they need to live a good life and provide for their families. People’s hard work should be recognised and rewarded.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we couldn’t agree more with Mr. Mika. 

Every single point he has made will strike a chord with Samoans at all levels. High-ranking officials in the public and private sector with their conscience intact will know that some of these people are being robbed when it comes to their wages. And the poorest of the poor in Samoa today will know this themselves. 

For years, they have had to put up with this daylight robbery. 

We are talking about hard working fathers, mothers and young people of this country who have had to endure such an injustice for so long. Imagine how demoralising it must be to open that pay cheque at the end of the week only to find a few talas after all that trouble at work? Some of them are out in the sun all day, having to put up with some of the most trying working conditions.

Regardless of the circumstances, you would agree that when we look at the minimum wage of $2.30 an hour compared to the cost of living, this is immoral. It is wrong on every level. 

Of course there is a very strong case against it. And over the years, every time the case for an increase is made, the government is forever blaming the private sector’s ability to absorb the costs involved. 

Fair enough. It has to be said that we cannot ignore this critical factor. 

The private sector after all is supposed to be the engine of growth for the economy, which means that any proposal that could hamper its ability to do that must be thought out properly before it is implemented. 

The key issue here is the ability of the private sector to find the money to fund and absorb an increase without the need to downsize and close shop.

From our standpoint, the government can do a lot to help the private sector accommodate the plan. One of the first things it must do is revisit those taxes that are crippling the business sector. 

In this country today, our businesses are being taxed to the bone. This is on top of the countless compliance costs and other administration costs these poor businesses have to comply with simply to keep going. And as if they’re not paying enough taxes already, they are then hit again – along with everyone else – by that menace called the V.A.G.S.T. 

Ladies and gentlemen, every time this government talks about the private sector, it is forever harping on about creating an enabling environment for the private sector to flourish. Is that happening? 

We doubt it. We say this because if the private sector were flourishing, we wouldn’t be left with such sorry unemployment figures. 

But then it’s not hard to see why. Has anybody stopped to ask the local business community about how much suffering they have had to endure because of electricity costs? We talk about creating an enabling environment for businesses to flourish and yet the cost of some of the basic utilities are outrageous. How can they grow under such circumstances? 

Think of the tourism industry and the many hardworking members of the hotel industry pouring their hard-earned money to develop their properties based on the promise of tourism becoming the mainstay of the economy. Isn’t it sad that so many of them cannot sleep at night because they cannot pay their loans given the decline in tourists visiting Samoa?

The point is that it’s all very well for the government to blame the private sector for holding back an increase in the minimum wage. But maybe if the government does its job in creating an enabling environment for the private sector to flourish, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

After all, think of the millions wasted through mismanagement, abuse of power and corrupt practices within the government that could help the private sector absorb an increase in the minimum wage. 

Folks, let me end this by saying that the debate about increasing the minimum wage should not only be based on “merits, facts and numbers,” it should be about morals, ethics and principles. 

And one that we should never forget is to do unto others as you would have them do to you. Ask yourself, how would you feel if you were that man/woman who toils day and night only to be paid $2.30 an hour? 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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