Congress revives call to increase minimum wage

By Sapeer Mayron ,

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S.W.C. DIRECTOR: Gatoloai Tili Afamasaga.

S.W.C. DIRECTOR: Gatoloai Tili Afamasaga.

The Samoa Workers Congress (S.W.C.) has revived a call to increase the minimum wage to $3 tala from the standard $2.30 tala. 

Leading the campaign is S.W.C. Director, Gatoloai Tili Afamasaga, who says it is about time the issue is given some serious consideration.

 “There hasn’t been a good forum to discuss the issues,” she says. 

They expect a resolution will come from discussions in the Samoan National Tripartite Forum (S.N.T.F.), which was established in 2013 to be a space for consultation about employment policy. 

“Since the S.N.T.F. was established in 2013, there was a change in the minimum wage, so now we are discussing a second change.

“We know it’s not going to be easy convincing employers they need to up their minimum wage, but we have to keep this discussion going in any case.”

Gatoloai says the clash between employers and employees is part of the challenge. 

“When we raised the minimum wage from T$2 to T$2.30 [in 2015], employers put up a real fight,” she says.

“And you can expect that, particularly if you’re a small employer struggling to meet the salary wages of your workers.”

According to a source from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, the first minimum wage of $2 tala and has only been increased once. 

Talking to employers and keeping the conversation going is essential to creating change, says Gatoloai.

“We try to talk things through in the context of high inflation in this country, the high cost of living. Really thinking, if you were in their shoes, would you be able to make ends meet?”

Established in 2014, the S.W.C. exists to represent all affiliated workers associations at the S.N.T.F., and to facilitate education and training for those associations.

“We work firstly with leadership,” says Gatoloai.

 “What does it mean to be a leader in a workplace organisation or leaders of employees? What do you do, what are the kinds of skills you need, how should you go about setting up the structures you need?”

Then training turns to more practical elements such as learning to negotiate agreements with employers, requesting salary increases, and discussing improvements in the workplace with employers. 

The S.W.C. encourages employees to establish committees to hold discussions with employers in groups, she says.

Gatoloai has been part of workers organisations for much of her working life.

She was the president of the Teachers Union for 18 years until she moved to become the president of the Council of Pacific Education, which she did for eight years.

Now, in her retirement, she is still passionate about education, but for workers to know their rights.

Gatoloai says workers from walks of life can benefit from learning about what they are entitled to under international conventions.

Many people do not think they are entitled to anything, she says.

 “When they become workers, they are grateful to get a job, so the workers consciousness, if you like, is still relatively new,” she says.

 “People who are getting to a workplace from staff associations but usually they are social clubs.

 “Turning them from social clubs into workers organisations with a view to discussing their rights as workers and what they can do in terms of improving conditions of work, is something that has to be taught.”

Gatoloai says when employers are convinced to support the change, Government will follow.

But organising, talking and negotiating salaries and benefits, has proven to work for employees in the past.

Government salaries are much higher than minimum wage because of a long history of government staff negotiating higher pay, says Gatoloai.

 “Teachers have been negotiating almost every year to improve our salaries and as a result we have really good salaries. Nurses have been doing the same thing.”

In the long-term, the S.W.C. would like to see all formal workers enrolled in a workers association. Currently only 20 percent of the formal workforce is registered with an association.

 “We have a lot of work trying to bring in the other estimated 16,000 people,” says Gatoloai. 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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