Seasonal work schemes not for working citizens

By The Editorial Board 09 September 2022, 6:00AM

The admission by seasonal workers that they lied about their employment status in their applications for seasonal work abroad shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In fact when the seasonal employment scheme first started over a decade ago with the New Zealand-based Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme (RSE) followed by the Seasonal Workers Program (SWP), both schemes were dogged by controversy over the years, which included accusations of nepotism in the recruitment process.

The article (“I have a job but I lied”: seasonal worker) on the front page of the Thursday 08 September 2022 edition of the Samoa Observer, which was based on interviews that this newspaper did with seasonal workers, is unlikely to cause a ruckus despite the workers’ admissions again raising questions about the integrity of the whole process. 

Some of the seasonal workers, who spoke to the Samoa Observer on the condition of anonymity for fear of being blacklisted, admit that they've lied about being unemployed when applying. 

“They didn’t do any background checks on me, they just asked if I had a job or not,” one of the workers said in an interview with this newspaper. 

“I have a job but I lied so I can leave to work overseas because it is fast money and it is a lot more than what my whole household earn put together.” 

A father of three spoke of the financial pressures that families face in Samoa and how being a seasonal worker abroad helps to pay the bills.

“There is too much financial commitment in our small communities and what we make from our job here is not enough to get by everyday,” the father said. 

“I know there is a shortage in workplaces but our Government is not giving us any solution to the minimum wage and the high cost of living. 

“This is the only alternative for people like me is to find work overseas, even if that means to do labour work and be away from my family for some time…someone has to make sacrifices to make ends meet.”

Now that we know a number of seasonal workers cheated and lied their way to get selected into the seasonal worker programs, where do we go from here in terms of addressing this issue long-term?

For starters the admission by the seasonal workers is confirmation that the Government’s recruitment process here in Samoa is flawed. 

While the Minister of Commerce Industry and Labour, Leatinuu Wayne So’oialo believes that using the Samoa National Provident Fund (S.N.P.F.) records can enable authorities to identify applicants who are employed, we remain unsure how quick the S.N.P.F. gets to update their records.

Minister Leatinuu said: “I also have a screening process which is a very simple one, the list is given to N.P.F. to verify if these people are active members and if they are they are still working and shouldn’t be going,” said Leatinuu. 

“The current process [from M.C.I.L.] is random selection but the due diligence process will help us keep our skilled workers and the scheme is supposed to be for the unemployed.”

As we mentioned above, we are not convinced that the S.N.P.F. records are foolproof and lapses in the data will continue to make the system vulnerable.

It is tragic that the Minister and the Government are going the extra mile to fix the loopholes in the system, in order to filter out applicants who cheat and lie their way through the application process to get on the seasonal worker scheme. 

Aren’t we Samoans God-fearing people who go to church every Sunday and swear by the Bible before our faifeau (church ministers) promising to live honest lives?

Now that we are celebrating the country’s 60th Independence anniversary, where is our oath to this nation called Samoa to live honest and truthful lives and to have respect for our neighbours and fellow citizens?

One of the other tragedies of this admission by seasonal workers is the lack of empathy for fellow citizens – who were less fortunate and therefore were unable to get a decent education that would have enabled them to find employment – and for whom the Samoa Government’s seasonal work scheme targets. 

Sadly, it has become obvious now that more working Samoans are abusing the process by getting into the seasonal work scheme, which at the end of the day only sees wealth accumulation in the privileged at the expense of poverty-stricken unemployed families.

There is no justice and equality in this sort of behaviour and we hope the Interagency review that the Government has commissioned into the seasonal worker schemes will lead to the formulation of long-term solutions for the benefit of all citizens.

By The Editorial Board 09 September 2022, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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