Seasonal worker policy delay detrimental

By The Editorial Board 24 May 2023, 10:00AM

Numerous studies and reports have been done in recent years on the positive impact of remittances on families in Samoa, especially over the last three years with the economy in a dilapidated state.

In June last year, for example, a total of SAT$72.2 million in remittances was recorded for that particular month based on data from the Central Bank of Samoa, Samoa Bureau of Statistics, and the Ministry of Customs and Revenue and collated as part of a Government report.

Early this year an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report pointed out the importance of remittances to household incomes in Samoa and Tonga as “safety nets” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The regional development bank said the increase in remittances to the two neighbouring states has had a positive effect on household income and became a mitigating factor against the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic. The ADB report also highlighted the importance of labour mobility programs and their link to remittances flow to the two Polynesian states.

The fact of the matter is you don’t need to wait for a report on remittances authored by a donor partner to acknowledge its impact on families here in Samoa. You see it every day when you go past a financial services company in Apia, with long queues of men and women accompanied by their children waiting to be served. A family’s dependence on remittances from loved ones either working or living abroad has become critical after the pandemic.

This is why the Poutasi village High Chief and Chair of the Poutasi Development Trust, Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale approached the Minister of Commerce, Industry, and Labour on Monday to get an update on the Government’s mooted seasonal work policy.

Having seen the positive impact of remittances at the community level and with the Poutasi Development Trust involved in the Falealili seasonal workers program, you can understand why Tuatagaloa has concerns about the delay.

"That was the first question I asked the Minister [Leatinu'u Wayne So'oialo] today when he arrived, where the new policy is heading because it's taking ages," Tuatagaloa told Samoa Observer in an interview on Monday. "We're almost in the middle of the year and it still hasn't been finalised and he [Minister] said it's not yet finalised but it will be soon.

"Of course, there's a huge impact on our program because of the limitation of people going overseas for seasonal employment. But the Minister has confirmed that the new policy and amendments to the scheme are nearly finished and they just need to deliver it to the Cabinet for approval."

Tuatagaloa was also asked for his view on the proposed new policy and changes to the scheme, but he said he will reserve his response until the new policy is completed and unveiled by the Government.

But why is it taking so long for the Ministry responsible as well as the Government to complete the policy? Tuatagaloa is correct, the various stakeholders should be concerned that the policy is yet to be unveiled, especially with five months of the year gone without any firm indication of an unveiling date.

Minister Leatinu'u, according to the Chair of the Poutasi Development Trust, said the policy will be finalised “soon”. But how soon is soon? 

The delay on the part of the Samoa Government to finalise the policy is already making seasonal work employers abroad nervous. In February this year, a group of Australian seasonal work employers pointed out the “disruptions” that Samoa’s delayed seasonal work policy is having on their business continuity plans. Approved Employers Australia C.E.O. Steve Burdette reportedly said at that time that they like to plan in advance to recruit Samoan seasonal workers but the disruptions, which they blamed on the Samoa Government, is already having adverse effects on their work plans. 

It is disappointing that two months after the Australian seasonal workers' employers organisation raised its concerns, there has been no progress on the part of the Samoa Government to finalise its policy.

In fact in March this year, we started reporting on the Samoa Government’s new seasonal work policy, where the districts will have a direct say in the recruitment of prospective applications for the Recognised Seasonal Employment (R.S.E.) scheme. But it appears that even that new recruitment platform hasn’t been finalised, as it is part of the bigger policy changes being mooted by the current Government.

With only a week left before we get into the mid-year, we hope the technocrats in Government tasked to formulate the new policy are mindful of the delays that they are causing, and the direct impact it will have on livelihoods and the community.

By The Editorial Board 24 May 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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