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Pandemic lay-offs might see Government subsidy

Newly unemployed workers across Samoa might be getting a cheque from Government, after an unemployment subsidy worth $2 million was floated in the latest Supplementary Budget package.

Minister of Finance, Sili Epa Tuioti, said the Ministry of Finance is looking to help workers who were laid off, given leave without pay or lost hours because of the global COVID-19 pandemic in a bid to help them and the national economy. 

It’s a move that has Samoa Worker’s Congress Director, Gatoloai Tili Afamasaga’s tick of approval, but she is concerned many workers will slip through the cracks.

The plan is for M.O.F. and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to work directly with employers to get their staff the subsidy, Gataloai explained. It is the most logical way to do it but it comes with a risk.

“There is a possibility none of that support will get to them because they have been off work for quite a long time," she said.

“I think we can probably trust the majority of employees, but there would such a diverse set of conditions in which some of these workers have been laid off.

Some workers were let go but with the promise of a job when the economy recovers. Others were given a certain time off before they can come back to work, while others were given no guarantees at all.

Gatoloai said for those let go with no guarantee, there is a risk employees won’t work to ensure they get the Government support if it is channeled through them.

“Generally when someone is laid off they are not really part of the consideration of the employers anymore because they are off their wage list. 

“That is our concern at the moment, because the workers are not in the structure to find out how employers are going to [pay them].”

The Director said people who were laid off can go to their old employers to access any Government benefits that may come through. If not, they can contact the Samoa First Union (S.F.U.), a national private sector workers union, for help. 

The S.W.C. and S.F.U. are part of the Samoa National Tripartite Forum, which is a consortium of the workers unions, government, private sector representatives and the International Labour Organisation.

Gatoloai said through that group the S.W.C. can help guide the Government’s efforts to best meet the worker’s needs and get useful Government benefits to them.

Part of the S.N.T.F.’s work is also to undertake a national rapid assessment of the unemployment situation COVID-19 has caused for Samoa. 

The survey will likely begin in June and results are expected in early July, so that Government can use more detailed data to inform its next budget.

As for how much each worker could expect to get from an unemployment subsidy, Gatoloai said she has no clear answer. She said she hopes the rapid assessment survey will help them hear from people themselves how much they need to get by until they can work again.

“A sum of money may not even be the best way at all to help support [people],” she added, suggesting injecting money into paying for people’s basic needs may go further.

“We will be asking people [in the survey] what are your priority concerns, how much do you think you should expect out of Government?

“I don’t think I can come up with a figure. I know other countries have done that but here in Samoa we need to be in a better position to say what that is because we don’t have much money.”

Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Ula Fruean has been approached for comment.

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