Seasonal work's $200 million-plus windfall
Samoans engaged in the Australian and New Zealand seasonal worker schemes generated income in excess of $200 million in the 2019-2020 financial year, the Parliament has heard.
The Minister of Commerce Industry and Labour, Lautafi Fio Purcell, revealed the windfall in a statement to the Parliament on Tuesday and emphasised the increase in the engagement of seasonal workers is generating steady income that is coming back into the local economy.
He said the schemes started with just 2,500 seasonal workers in 2019 and increased to 3,400 last year.
“This is a very big number, this is the total amount of people who left the country as well as the ones who returned,” Lautafi told the Parliament.
“This is what the Government is doing through our relations with New Zealand and Australia, we try our best to acquire these opportunities between ministerial ties as well as on the government official level and we are constantly talking.
“The goal is for these opportunities to be made available for us in Samoa.”
According to the Minister, earnings last year totalled $210,662,180 when compared to the same period the previous year.
“$210,662,180 million was earned in the last year; the previous year there was more than $190 million; the year before that more than $140 million,” said Lautafi.
“This is the amount of money brought into our country; this is money going straight into villages and families of these workers.
“This is a great blessing, in my position as the Minister, I know this a very big blessing for the country of Samoa.”
Lautafi credited the honesty and good conduct of participating seasonal workers for the rise in income, saying Samoan workers are considered the ‘most trusted’ when compared to nationalities from other Pacific nations.
“Mr. Speaker, we are not the only ones in the scheme. There is Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands; so we are all competing for the spots,” he said.
“When the global pandemic hit, our scheme participation was disrupted because of the restrictions in travelling; it was hard to bring our workers back and forth, but because of the good relations between Samoa, New Zealand and Australia, extensions were granted.
“But right now as we try to operate as normal, overseas countries are also having difficulties because many workers in New Zealand have lost jobs due to COVID and they are looking at ways to employ their own people and so the opportunities for the Pacific have been reduced.”
However, the Salega East M.P. Olo Fiti Vaai interrupted Lautafi’s speech to query whether there is an insurance policy available to the seasonal workers and which agency would be responsible for this insurance.
“Is it our Government or it is their overseas employers?” said Olo. “This is to ensure that our people are protected but the scheme itself, Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister for this very important development.”
Palauli le Falefa M.P.d Faumuina Tiatia Liuga then took the floor to also thank the Ministry for the initiative, which has enabled youth who didn’t program academically to have other alternative forms of employment.
Faumuina additionally recommended that the Government provide a pension for the seasonal workers when they return.
This was followed by a recommendation from Alaisasa Sepulona Moananu, the M.P. for Anoamaa East for the Ministry to run financial management training for all returning seasonal workers, as he noticed that after three weeks of their arrival in Samoa their cash is exhausted.
The Faleata West M.P. Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi also added to the debate and suggested that successful seasonal workers share their knowledge and skills with those who might be considered for the next scheme so that they will be familiar with the work.
Another M.P. Fuimaono Samuelu Te’o, who represents the Falealili East constituency, then asked whether seasonal work opportunities should be distributed amongst the constituencies to be fair to everyone.
The push for an equitable distribution of seasonal work opportunities compelled Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi to warn that the Government has a zero-tolerance towards workers’ misconduct.
He said if someone from a village caused trouble when they participated in the scheme, their village will be punished and not targeted during recruitment.
There have been instances of individuals in the schemes abandoning the team upon arrival overseas which Tuilaepa emphasised has always been an issue.