International Labour Organisation puts Samoan employment under microscope

The International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) is taking a deep dive into the impact of COVID-19 on jobs and businesses in Samoa in a bid to help the country best understand its economic situation in the wake of the pandemic.

The I.L.O.’s Director of the Pacific Island Countries, Matin Karimli, said the results of the joint rapid assessment, conducted alongside the Government, private sector and workers unions, should be published in July. 

“Data will speak if you are willing to listen,” Mr. Karimli told the Samoa Observer.

“We believe that this assessment and rapid survey will enable us to have more credible data on employment, on the informal economy and how is it impacted by the COVID-19.”

Since the global pandemic forced Samoa to shut its borders and press pause on the economy, jobs in tourism, agriculture, hospitality and retail have been lost, many with no hope of being revived.

This week the head of the Samoa Tourism Authority Chief Executive Officer Fa'amatuainu Lenatai Suifua predicted that with 3000 jobs and 80 business gone, it will be six years at least before the tourism industry is operating at pre-COVID levels. 

The full impact on jobs outside of the tourism sector has not been published.

Mr. Karimli said the I.L.O. assessment will go alongside a broader socio-economic survey by the Samoa United Nations Country Team.

In order to rebuild after the pandemic, reliable data is essential, he said.

“This is important not only for understanding the scale of the informal economy or employment rate but this is very important for the government, workers and employers to prepare their policy decisions. 

“One common component about the informal workers is they usually don’t have access to social protection or healthcare, which is a serious issue.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has already resulted in the loss of 305 million jobs worldwide, and the lack of social protection has reared its head with millions left in poverty without the systems in place to support them.

Mr. Karimli said social protection is essential, and a piece of work the I.L.O. and the U.N. in Samoa have been working on for some time.

“We are currently undertaking with other U.N. agencies a social protection project. Samoa has ratified 10 I.L.O. conventions and we have been working to implement those conventions and to make sure they are fully integrated into Samoa’s social protection system.

“Social protection costs for us are not a cost, they are an investment to the stability and future of the country. It’s very important for the countries to invest in their social protection,” Mr. Karimli said.

Samoa’s budget efforts to ease the economic pain go some ways towards a solution, he said, but there needs to be access to a social protection system for all kinds of people. 

“COVID-19 has highlighted many injustices we need to tackle, globally, and we have a huge task before us in building the future of work.

“What we say to Governments, workers and employers is that we need to work together to build a better economy.

He said the I.L.O has made itself available to the Government of Samoa to help it with COVID-19 recovery, and to help ensure all policies are done in line with the principles and values of the I.L.O.

The most important thing is to make sure no one is left unemployed for too long, especially workers who may be more precariously employed like women, youth and people with disabilities whose unemployment rates tend to be higher.

“The measures that are undertaken by countries need to be specific because youth unemployment is not only about the economic welfare of these people but it’s about the social wealth of the society,” Mr. Karimli said.

“It’s very important for the Government to focus, and that whatever they do regarding social protection or overcoming economic challenges that they take into account specific groups, namely women, youth and people with disabilities. 

“We expect countries to focus on social dialogue, we expect countries to protect workers, and we expect countries to invest in their social protection systems and to stimulate their economies.”

Mr. Karimli has been in his role for just three months, having left the highest levels of governance in his home country of Azerbaijan.

Until January, he was the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Population of Azerbaijan, and is the first Azerbaijani to occupy a top level I.L.O. seat.

He intends to visit Samoa when the international situation allows for him to come. 

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