Plugging the unwanted labour drain

By The Editorial Board 16 May 2024, 10:00AM

It may be just banter, however, for some years this expression has rang true. The biggest export commodity of this nation is its people.

It is perhaps good news that the StarKist Samoa cannery in American Samoa has requested an additional 500 guest workers from Samoa. There are plans in the pipeline to build accommodation for the workers. This means proper accommodation and pay.

The progress report under the Labour Mobility and Immigration was discussed in the Fifth Atoa o Samoa Executive Meeting that was held in American Samoa last week.

As of April this year, there are 1,222 guest workers at S.K.S. with an additional permit approved for 119 Samoans for that month.

Remittances from Samoans abroad and those employed under the various labour mobility schemes have helped keep this tiny nation afloat during the pandemic and remain the biggest source of foreign exchange.

This announcement is welcome news to the many unemployed young men and women who can use this opportunity to earn money for their families as guest workers. This is not a permanent scheme but allows Samoans to work on temporary basis for a certain period of time, however, that is based upon the demand from the cannery.

The lure of the American dollars would be too much for many to resist and once again there is a fear that many in the current labour force and some even skilled ones, would attempt to get a ticket on this ride.

The majority of the roles required in the guest worker scheme as it is called, is for unskilled workers and this narrows it down on who should be going. Under the current policy for seasonal workers, the district councils have been given the task to select the workers.

There is a strong selection criterion where the person going for work must be unemployed for the last six months. This was done to stop the labour drain. Many businesses will vow to filling positions by getting foreign employees because they cannot find workers locally.

It is about time the government creates a national unemployment register. This can be done through district councils by listing the number of people not employed. From the district level, this record is then transferred to the national level.

A system of checks and balance including proper identification and superannuation numbers should be listed to verify unemployment and people for overseas seasonal work should be selected from the pool of people listed in the register.

If need be a department within the labour ministry should be created to do this. This would ensure that those going for employment overseas where unskilled workers are required are unemployed. This is one way of dealing with the issue.

Australia and New Zealand will continue to look at the Pacific to fill in the shortage of labour in their backyard. As Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa once said Pacific nations are not outposts for growing workers for Australia and New Zealand.

However, labour mobility in this day and age is an important aspect of migration. Skilled workers will leave if there is a demand for their skillset but they should not be leaving for seasonal work and guest work.

This will keep creating the labour shortage that is restricting this economy from functioning at its full capacity. That and the need for sound government investment into areas that will drive the economy and provide a sound and resilient infrastructure.

Having strong guidelines backed by a strategy to only send the unemployed for such work is a start in putting a stop to the loss of skilled workers to schemes not intended for them. If they find work intended for them, then that is another story.

Hopefully, when the policies for recruitment of the 500 guest workers are put in place, it is the unemployed, who are considered. This nation has lost too many nurses, teachers, and other skilled workers to seasonal work that is not intended for them.

By The Editorial Board 16 May 2024, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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