Cabinet approves wages subsidy, more than a thousand benefit

More than a thousand employees in the tourism sector, who were made redundant, placed on leave without pay and those working part-time or with reduced hours will receive direct financial support thanks to a wage subsidy approved by Cabinet.  

The $1.21 million rescue package will be in the form of payments for hospitality workers made unemployed after the tourism industry’s economic impact following the coronavirus downturn. 

The money will be drawn from phase II of the Government’s coronavirus stimulus package. 

Staff who were made redundant will each receive $300; those placed on leave without pay will get $200 and employees with reduced hours or working part-time will receive $100.

Businesses that are eligible include: hotels/resorts; restaurants and bars; car rentals companies; manufacturing exporters; travel agents; businesses operating at Faleolo International Airport; and Talofa Airways.

The Ministry of Finance (M.O.F.) has worked in partnership with Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (S.C.C.I.) for the wage subsidy scheme fact sheet. 

Employees will not be eligible to receive the financial assistance unless all criteria have been met on the fact sheet forms which will be processed by the M.O.F. 

Some of the criteria include that the business must be registered and up to date with business licenses in Samoa; workers were made redundant from COVID-19 State of Emergency (S.O.E.).

Furthermore, workers were made to take leave without pay from COVID-19 S.O.E. and workers who worked at reduced hours/rate during S.O.E. 

The employees must be legally employed at the place of employment at the declaration of the State of Emergency on the 22nd March 2020; tourism and manufacturing sectors are the priority for wage subsidy.

In an interview with Samoa Observer, Lemauga Hobart Vaai, Chief Executive Officer of S.C.C.I. has confirmed that approximately around 1,200 people will benefit from this assistance but it will depend on those who have completed their forms. 

The process requires the completion of a wage subsidy registration sheet and submitted to M.O.F. / S.C.C.I. team.

It also requires the business [Tax Identification Numbers] Tin Number; the full business trading name, address; the names of its employees; employee individual bank and bank account numbers; your employees [National Provident Fund] N.P.F. numbers; updated contact details of employees; business up to date with employee N.P.F. payments (affected period only); business up to date with employee ACC payments (affected period only); business up to date with PAYE forms submitted to N.P.F. (affected period only).

The timeline for wage subsidy: the 30th of September 2020 - circulation of registration and fact sheet to the tourism and hospitality/manufacturing businesses and note the due date 2nd October 2020; the 14th of October 2020 – due date of completed application sheets and only completed registrations sheets will be submitted by S.C.C.I./M.O.F. team for payment; the 20th of October 2020 - final master sheet completed and sent into M.O.F. for audit checks of business information and preparation of payments to approved businesses; and the 26th of October 2020 – disbursement of payments in Upolu/Savaii Samoa Chamber training team.

The disbursement of wage subsidy will be paid by M.O.F. into bank account of employees “EFT” [Electronic Funds Transfer]. 

Those who haven’t provided bank details the team will disburse with support of employers and M.O.F. internal audit team. 

For Upolu based businesses payment uplifted from S.C.C.I. office; hotels in rural based areas Aleipata, Siumu, Lefaga, Manono areas to be delivered to affected businesses; and hotels in Savaii to be delivered to affected businesses (hotels in Savaii). 

President of the Samoa Hotels Association, Tupa'i Saleimoa Vaai told this newspaper that their association has known about the plans for quite some time.

“We are glad that Government has heard our calls when we asked for the wage subsidy,” he added.

Tupa’i explained that the tourism sector was in the forefront in pushing for wage subsidy considering there was an indication from government that there was not going to be any wage subsidy.

“We are thankful that the Government has answered our humble request for assistance but we saw that for tourism, it was going to be a long term impact.

“A lot of businesses are looking at closing down, so we pushed hard to ensure that there was a way for a subsidy.

“It has taken some time to get it out but again, we can’t complain at least we have, we were just waiting on how it would be operationalised.”

He also noted that the plans were pushed out at the 30th of September.

“It’s a bit rushed but we understand that with government it takes a bit of time to ensure that protocol and all the safeguards and controls are in place so that it will not be used or abused.

“A lot of the other industries have gone back to work, even though there is a bit of movement around tourism with the marketing events going on to try and encourage our people to use the hotels because that is all that we can depend on at this point of time.

“Some of the employees that have been redundant have moved on and sort jobs elsewhere, our concern of course some of those people were qualified people that needed to stay in the industry but now they moved on, that is a loss to the industry as well.”

In addition, he said that they are hopeful that when businesses go back to normal, they can attract them back.

“The industry as a whole is still in trouble we also thank the people for their support putting through the hotels but we will always support what needs to be done for the safety of our country.”

However, he also expressed his concern that the subsidy is only a one off payment.

“It’s up to the individual whether to make it last but we know how $300 is not going to be that much but we are appreciative of whatever is forthcoming in terms of assistance.

“It’s not a sustainable plan in terms of going forward, for us it’s not just about helping the businesses, it’s about helping us keep the people employed.

“We will keep asking the Government for help to assist us in sustaining in the long term.”

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