Stimulus package should wage subsidies, employer loyalty

The worker’s unions of Samoa want to see employers commit to rehiring any workers they have to lay off as the global pandemic ravages the economy both locally and around the world.

Gatoloai Tili Afamasaa, Director of the Samoa Worker’s Congress, said she was concerned that if Government cannot provide enough wage subsidies to keep people in tourism, hospitality and other challenged industries employed, thousands may be out of jobs permanently.

While there are no accurate statistics for how many people are employed between the formal and informal private sectors, Gatoloai said majority are not union members.

The best her organisation can do for them is work with Government via the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to ask for policy moves that benefit workers.

“We are especially concerned for hotel employees,” Gatoloai said. With reports of hotels large and small already in the position of reducing staff numbers, the union director is worried about what will happen in “better days.”

She said she hopes the Government stimulus package under consideration by the Ministry of Finance will include measures for employees as well as their bosses. 

One measure she hopes will be included is a demand on employers to be loyal to staff they have to lay off, and rehire them when their businesses grows again. If not, Samoa could see unprecedented unemployment rates. 

An A.N.Z. economic report released last week predicts Samoa will lost 19 per cent of jobs or 6,532 jobs in the next year. 

And though she is concerned that the Ministry of Finance has yet to announce any package, Gatoloai said she knows the work is happening, and supported prioritising keeping the virus out of the country first and foremost.

If people become ill in Samoa, she said, there will be no money to boost the economy, as it will all go into the health sector.

Typically the Congress’s door into Government is through the Samoa National Tripartite Forum, which includes the S.W.C., the National Provident Fund, the Accident Compensation Corporation, the Public Service Commission and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.).

But the S.N.T.F. has not convened any emergency meetings since the nation went into a state of emergency, nor since the pandemic’s effects on the economy became clear.

Gatoloai said she is happy to see banks start to offer leniency on loan repayments and that they are working with customers to manage their accounts. In the meantime for many workers, there is “only uncertainty,” she said.

“It is hard to see how this is going to pan out.”

Saina Tomi Setu, Senior Organiser for the Samoa First Union, said Government will have to help the lowest wage earners stay employed, keep getting their income or otherwise ensure their employers are committed to taking them back when the emergency is over.

“People who stay home should be paid,” Ms. Setu said.

One way Government can help is to pay businesses to cover the cost of getting workers to their jobs in lieu of public buses, she suggested.

The organisers is also worried the state of emergency will serve as an excuse for employers to cut down staff unnecessarily or underpay their staff illegally. So far no one has reported this problem to S.F.U. but Ms. Setu is staying alert.

Between the beginning of January and the end of March, the union found four employers had not increased their minimum wage payments to $3 from $2.30, despite the increase becoming effective from January 1. 

The COVID-19 shutdown has put a temporary stop to the union’s national survey to ensure everyone is paying their staff correctly, but Ms. Setu said with many workers unaware of their rights under the law, some businesses may continue to take advantage of them.

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