Minimum wage increase will buy butter for bread: Samoa First Union

The Samoa First Union (S.F.U) has backed calls to raise the minimum wage from $2.30 to $3.70, saying it will make many Samoans very happy.

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L) hired a consultant to research the implications of a wage increase; the conclusion of his report, reported in the Samoa Observer on Monday suggested raising the current $2.30 tala wage to $3.70.

Despite private sector concern that the increase could lead to job losses and business closure, S.F.U. Senior Organiser, Saina Tomi, said this proposal will pull working people out of poverty.

The Union was present when consultant Dr. Vlassis Missos presented his proposal to the private sector and non-government organisations last Tuesday. 

Ms. Tomi said when she heard his suggestion of $3.70, she was overjoyed.

“$2.30 only buys bread with no butter,” she said. “$3.70 is a good figure, it’s fair for both sides: for the workers and the employers.”

She also commended his recommendation that minimum wage earners are except from recent and future increases to their pension fund contributions and continue to pay seven per cent.

The Samoa National Provident Fund will increase its compulsory contributions to 10 per cent by 2021, with the first of three one per cent increases already taking effect in July this year.

It is a big step closer to their ultimate goal of getting people up to a living wage of $5 per hour, she added.

Before his presentation, Dr. Missos had met with S.F.U for consultation during his research. Ms. Tomi said she felt like their contributions were taken seriously.

Ms. Tomi said she hears countless versions of the same story. Minimum wage today is so low that it splits apart families, with people working countless hours to make ends meet or moving from rural Samoa into Apia for a slightly better paying job.

The proposal will go before the Samoa National Tripartite Forum and then to the Government for consideration.

Ms. Tomi said she hopes the incomplete review into the Labour and Employment Relations Act will include a compulsory, regular review of the minimum wage, with this increase to kick-start momentum.

Once the increase is official, Ms. Tomi said she hopes to see government work to ensure employers are compliant.

When surveying workers, the union found there are still people being paid less than $2.30 per hour, and some who are still being paid minimum wage years and even decades into their job.

“Minimum wage is for unskilled workers,” Ms. Tomi said, a point she was happy to see Dr. Missos make in his presentation.

“From a union perspective, remaining on the same rate for almost ten years is not appropriate.

“The employer earns a lot of money during that time, so it’s time for them to add something to their worker’s pay.

“I don’t believe it is a big effect for them (the employer).”

But as well as Government doing its part, the union is desperate to educate workers on their rights. Too many people do not know what the minimum wage even is, let alone demand they are paid it.

That can mean workers are taken advantage of, for a long time.

“When we ask, they say it’s based on qualifications or performance. So my question is: why are they keeping them if they are not performing well in their job? They just keep them to pay the lowest rate.”

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