Power Gone to the Head of Minister

By Mika Kelekolio 06 July 2024, 7:00PM

The Minister of Finance, (what’s his name again?) said last week, according to the media that people from one district could not apply for seasonal work with another constituency if their district councils did not comply with the new Recognised Seasonal Employment (RSE) policy. Some district councils had informed the Ministry responsible for the Labour Mobility Scheme that they were hesitant to adopt the policy.

I’m not surprised, nor should any thinking person. I think this Minister should move to Russia where they never question policies made on the hoof without much thought, consultation with or consideration for peoples’ rights. Article 13 of our Constitution guarantees us the right to move freely throughout Samoa and to form association with others.

What the Minister appears to be doing is to deprive people of that freedom by denying them opportunities to be considered for seasonal work if they do not come through constituencies or organisations that support the Government or its policies. He ought to be reminded that he is there to make decisions for the good of the country and the public in general, not just FAST supporters and their constituencies.

The restrictive nature of this policy in barring seasonal workers from registering with other district councils, other than the one in their constituency, limits their ability to apply their skills and may therefore be considered a ‘restraint of trade’.

Samoa has been a signatory to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention since 2005 and has ratified 10 of its fundamental conventions. One of these is Convention C-087 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention. It sets out the right of workers (people seeking registration for seasonal work are workers) and employers (agents recruiting on behalf of employers get their instructions from employers and may therefore be considered employers). In particular, Articles 2 & 3 say that ‘Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right …..to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation.  Article 3 says ‘(1) Workers' and employers' organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes, and (2) The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.’

The Minister of Finance’s RSE policy may have contravened this Convention.

Moreover, requiring district councils to pay a registration fee of $1000 to be acceptable to the Government or $10,000 for agents to recruit members for the programme from their own constituency is just one more indicator that the Government’s coffer is empty and they are looking around for new revenue-gathering mechanisms.  

District Councils that are “hesitant to adopt this policy” should band together and apply for a Judicial Review of the Minister of Finance RSE policy, in that he failed to act fairly; that there was no consultation with and had failed to hear from those affected by his policy, (namely potential RSE workers, district councils and recruiting agents); and that his policy appears to aim at benefitting constituencies supporting the Government.

It is also an attack on recruitment agents who are doing an excellent job for the RSE Scheme. And contrary to the common belief that the Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme was a government invention, the fact is, it wasn’t. Tuatagaloa Joe Annadale started his scheme of bringing seasonal workers to Hastings 4-5 years before our government got into the act in 2007-2008. At our brief meeting in Palmerston North on his way to meet with employers in Hastings in early 2000, Mr Annadale relayed to me what he was trying to do. My only suggestion then was to talk to the Trade Unions as well to get them on his side to ensure that his people’s employment conditions were reasonable, and they were not exploited by employers.

Because of the person he is, Mr Annadale, may not want to claim credit for this, but the acceptance of and rise in demand for seasonal workers by New Zealand, and later Australia all started with him. It is his ‘intellectual property’. (He should have patent it and claim royalty from our government and all other governments that are now taking part in the scheme.) Our Government Ministers should thank him and think first instead of making damning statements about people who have made RSE the ‘goose that lays the golden egg’ not only for our country but the Pacific.

In September last year, the then Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour while explaining this new RSE policy to the media said, “[A]gents who recruit locals for overseas-based employers are now required to pay a $10,000 registration fee under the new policy.”

“These are the people we believe are benefitting from this.”  

Wrong, Mr Minister. Our Government, Samoa’s economy and our people have benefitted by billions of dollars over the years because of the effort of “agents who recruit locals for overseas-based employers” like Mr Annandale. And from what I’ve been told, Mr Annadale and the Falealili People’s RSE Scheme is the best run programme there is. All recruits must earn their position on the scheme by showing they have contributed to their family (by having a ma’umaga) and village, as well as showing good behaviour.

Again, I ask: Did the Ministers involved in this woeful policy consult stakeholders like the people of Falealili the many district councils before they made their decision?

Well-known 19th century philosopher, John Stuart Mill writing in ‘On Liberty’, says, “when the thing to be done is likely to be better done by individuals than by the government, then the government has no business in being involved.”

He also wrote about the great evil of adding unnecessarily to government power because people are self-interested, and this does not magically change when they are in a position of power, as they will use their position to benefit themselves.

By Mika Kelekolio 06 July 2024, 7:00PM
Samoa Observer

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