Half of households' income hit by pandemic

Nearly half of Samoan households’ incomes have been “significantly” affected by the coronavirus-led economic crash, new data from the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) shows. 

The I.L.O.’s “Rapid Assessment Survey” asked more than 1600 people across 210 households about how COVID-19 economic downturn had affected their livelihoods and quality of life.

Of those surveyed, 48 per cent said their income had been significantly affected; 30 per cent said the effects had been moderate; three per cent reported a slight drop; and 19 per cent no impact at all.  

Food security was another issue nominated by households as having been negatively affected by the pandemic. 

A total of 49 per cent of respondents said their access to food had either been significantly or moderately; 45 per cent said the crisis had no impact. 

A third of households said their main source of income was from remittances. Seven per cent had some kind of business bringing in money, while 39 households said no one at home has a paid job.

Asked what their household needs help with, 51 per cent of respondents (108) said they needed agricultural assistance, and another 51 per cent said job opportunities or work hours would help.

A quarter said they needed money or a loan, 14 per cent said help with fishing would help, and around 20 per cent said health costs, transportation costs or ‘other’.

Of the 39 households with no salaried household member, 69 per cent wanted job opportunities. 

The survey was funding by the International Labour Organisation and conducted by the Samoa Impact Assessment and Monitoring Taskforce, chaired by Pulotu Lyndon Chu Ling.

Pulotu is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour and the Chair of the Samoa National Tripartite Forum.

“The assessment is an “in-crisis assessment” and therefore the idea is to update it regularly as much as practical to ensure up-to-date information is provided to Government and stakeholders,” Pulotu said.

“As we look towards recovery, it is vital that there is data reflecting those who have been most affected to ensure any further assistance is targeted.”

The survey of 210 households was not randomised or weighted to ensure it was statistically representative of the broader Samoan population. 

Nearly half of representatives came from the wider Upolu region: 24 per cent were from North Western Upolu, 19 per cent from the Apia Urban Area and 11 per cent were from Savaii. 

The survey report, which the National Tripartite Forum submitted to Cabinet this week, suggests households would benefit from more Government partnerships with the development community, including the I.L.O., to develop “potential income alternatives.”

The business community was surveyed, with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry itself carrying out the survey.

In total 119 businesses were surveyed. A total of 10 (in accommodation and air transportation) had completely closed their operations because of the pandemic. The remainder had either managed to maintain normal activity (46 per cent) or had to only partly open (45 per cent). 

The majority of those able to continue operating normally were either in the commerce or restaurant sectors.

The survey found the majority of businesses had poor cash services in case of emergency and insurance rates were low. Half rated themselves as “poorly prepared” for the onset of the pandemic, and just 22 of the businesses surveyed said they had a written contingency plan.

“Enterprises have been subjected/exposed to natural Disasters and Climate Change but were ill-advised about global pandemics,” the report said.

Half of the business surveyed did not have insurance. These were micro and small enterprises. The survey found the businesses that had insurance had specific assets to insure, like a rental car fleet or wholesale stock.

Just 29 per cent of the surveyed businesses had full insurance, and 18 per cent had partial insurance. 

Significantly, cash reserves were poor across all businesses surveyed. Almost 70 per cent of businesses surveyed had less than three months’ cash on hand. Of those that had more than six months cash on hand, all were either large enterprises or subsidiaries of overseas companies. 

Just seven per cent of businesses had enough cash on hand to survive a year or more. 

The highest proportion of businesses surveyed had just enough cash on hand to last a month. 

The survey report said the cash reserve responses should be “treated with caution” due to sensitivity on the part of the businesses surveyed. 

Half said they are struggling to pay their staff due to an averaged 86 per cent decline in sales this year. They reported they had very little ability to support their workers, with just 16 per cent offering paid leave and nine per cent offering extended paid sick leave to those they could not keep employed.

Businesses are turning to the Government in the expectation of more help in the future, with 65 per cent wanting more financial assistance packages, and 58 per cent suggesting tax relief would help them.

The survey report recommends the Government, working with the Samoa National Provident Fund, work on tax relief measures, financial assistance and any appropriate “verification processes” needed to roll these out.

The majority of the businesses surveyed (59 per cent) had nine or fewer employees, and a further 34 per cent had between 10 and 49 employees. Just a handful of larger businesses were surveyed. 

Retailers or wholesalers made up 34 of the 119 business, tourist accommodation sites made up 17 and the rest were from transportation, hospitality construction, agriculture and more.

The businesses collectively reported losing 893 staff between them this year, because of the pandemic. There has been a small increase in part-time employment from last year according to the businesses own reporting.  

Asked what assistance they want from the Government, the 152 employees (still in employment) surveyed were split between not paying for A.C.C. or S.N.P.F. for another six months.

Of the 200 people who had lost their jobs since the pandemic that were surveyed, just 33 per cent wanted supermarket trading hours resorted to pre-state of emergency hours.

But they overwhelmingly wrote in support of not paying their A.C.C. or S.N.P.F., including not repaying their loans to the provident fund for another six months.

Businesses were surveyed by the Samoa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, employees and laid-off workers were surveyed by the Samoa Workers Congress, and the households were surveyed by the I.L.O. with technical assistance by WizConsult.

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