Ministry defends child labour actions
The Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) says it is working to eliminate child labour despite the United States Department of Labour criticising Samoa's minimal progress in improving labour market protections.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Ministry said it was doing all it could within its limited mandate to regulate the workforce.
“The Ministry has carried out monitoring and enforcement activities to ensure that children under the age of 15 are not employed by businesses under its mandate in various sectors such as construction, tourism and many others,” its statement said.
The Ministry noted that the main instrument for regulating labour laws in Samoa was the Labour and Employment Relations Act (L.E.R.A.), which is limited to public bodies and private or non-government business entities. That limits the Ministry’s regulatory power to what is known as the formal sector, which is responsible for employing only a minority of the workforce.
But the Ministry said it was currently seeking to expand its mandate in a bid to reduce the extent to which children were employed.
M.C.I.L.’s comments come after the Samoa Observer published in Monday’s edition, published the findings of a highly critical report from the United States Department of Labour (“Samoa not eliminating child labour: U.S. Labour Dep't report”.)
“Children in Samoa are engaged in the worst forms of child labour, including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. Children also perform dangerous tasks in street vending,” states the report.
“Children who are street vending may work late at night, are exposed to exhaust fumes, and have an increased risk of being hit by passing traffic.”
The report added that it found no evidence of laws that ban the using, procuring or offering of children for illicit activities including for the production and trafficking of drugs.
The report also identified what it called “gaps” in the powers of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labor (M.C.I.L.) to enforce child labour laws.
“However, gaps exist within the authority of the M.C.I.L. that may hinder adequate enforcement of their child labor laws.
The Ministry was contacted for comment to respond to the report before the article’s publication but did not do so.
On Wednesday, though, the Ministry said it has been working to review the nation’s Labour and Employment Relations Act to expand its scope and, therefore, the Ministry’s regulatory power.
The Ministry’s statement said that addressing the shortcomings identified by the United States Government agency were part of its proposed amendments to the law and the aim of strengthening its regulatory powers.
“What was not mentioned in the Samoa Observer article is the current review of the Labour and Employment Relations Act that is now in its final stages following multiple stakeholder and public consultations,” the statement said.
Among the changes proposed include amending the minimum age of employment to 16 years of age and only allowing “safe and light” employment at 13 years of age.
“The amended L.E.R.A. Act [will include] a schedule of safe and light employment for children aged between 13 and 16 years, and a hazardous occupations list prohibiting the employment of all children i.e. [those] under 18 years of age,” the statement said.
“The hazardous occupations list will include exposure to environments, substances, and machinery that is detrimental to the mental and physical development of all children.
The Ministry says it has created a Child Labour Taskforce empowered to respond to high priority issues such as child street vendors.
“[But] given the various activities classified as worst forms of child labour, inter-agency cooperation is required in order to construct a cohesive and holistic approach,” the statement said.
The U.S. Department of Labour report noted that M.C.I.L. had powers to protect children including those who are street vendors.
“In 2019, under the division of the Child Protection Unit, sweeps to monitor children in street vending were conducted,” the report said.
“Once a child was identified, his or her family was located and a home visit scheduled, during which the Child Protection teams would educate families on the importance of attending school and the risks and hazards of street vending.”