Seasonal work blessings but needs review

By The Editorial Board 07 January 2022, 10:38PM

It is good to know Samoans out of other Pacific nationalities currently engaged as seasonal workers in New Zealand had the highest earnings.

Details of their weekly salaries were highlighted in a report titled “Seasonal worker schemes in the Pacific through the lens of international human rights and labour standards: A summary report”. The report was compiled and published by the International Labour Organisation (I.L.O.) on 16 December 2021.

Some of the report’s findings were highlighted in an article (Samoan workers earn more in New Zealand) in the 8 January 2021 edition of the Samoa Observer. 

Previously, we’ve always found it difficult to put a figure on the average weekly salaries of Samoan seasonal workers – who are recruited through Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme (S.W.P.) and New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer (R.S.E.) scheme – due to the absence of official documentation or reports or the refusal by the Samoa Government to share that information citing confidentiality. 

But thanks to the work of the I.L.O. and its partners (UN Migration, UN ESCAP, UN Human Rights, Platform on Disaster Displacement, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, UN Trust Fund for Human Security and New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade Aid Programme), we can finally do that for those who get deployed to work in Australia or New Zealand.

So why is it important for information such as the weekly salaries of Samoan seasonal workers to be publicly released and discussed? Well, it actually matters, when every year thousands of citizens apply for and successfully qualify for the two different schemes. And their return to the country with thousands of dollars or sending remittances to families back home which also impacts the economy positively.

So in terms of the highest earnings for workers from the four different Pacific nationalities, the report says that in Australia Fijian workers recorded the highest earnings with AU$1,138 (WST$2,047) per week, while workers from Vanuatu recorded the lowest earning of AU$834 (WST$1,500). In New Zealand, the report said Samoan workers recorded the highest earnings with AU$1,093 (WST$1,966) while Fijian workers had the lowest with AU$736 (WST$1,324).

We thank the Australian and New Zealand Governments for providing these opportunities for our people, especially at this juncture with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc with Samoa’s tourism sector, forcing hoteliers and resort and beach fale owners to lay off thousands of workers over the last 18 months. 

Hundreds of these laid off tourism industry workers signed up for seasonal work during the registration last year, undertaken by the Ministry of Commerce Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) and they are now working in Australia or New Zealand. 

And if the total earnings is any indication – as shown in the report which was based on a survey that had respondents’ feedback – then each one of them could return home with over AU$12,000 (WST$21,590). 

In December the Central Bank of Samoa (C.B.S.) released a report that showed that there was a growth of over 28 per cent in remittances for the month of October 2021 with the country the recipient of $68.9 million in remittances.

It is likely that some of the source of the money transfers would have been seasonal workers as C.B.S. data showed that transfers from Australia were up by WST$7.9 million and New Zealand WST$1.2 million.

There is no doubt the two labour mobility programmes are a great partnership between Samoa (and the other Pacific Island nations) and Australia and New Zealand as it enables families to put food on the table, while economically empowering themselves through the establishment of small-scale income generation entrepreneurship.

However, over the years there have been concerns over working conditions, health and safety, living conditions (accomodation), transport costs as well as access to healthcare and welfare services.

And some of these areas of concern are raised in the “concluding analysis and recommendations” at the back of the I.L.O. report which was commissioned in December. 

We urge the Australian and the New Zealand Governments to look at the recommendations put forward by the I.L.O. and its partners, especially the call for both Governments to review both schemes in consultation with the participating Pacific nations as well as “unions, workers, employer organisations, employers and civil society organisations.”

It would be the right thing to do amidst a global pandemic that is showing no signs of abating and continues to impact negatively on vulnerable economies like Samoa’s.

By The Editorial Board 07 January 2022, 10:38PM

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