Seafarers priority for unemployment support: Union

The Samoa First Union (S.F.U.) says returned seafarers need attention in the next COVID-19 economic stimulus package, as many of them settle into unemployment back on the island.

After a large-scale effort from Government to repatriate cruise and cargo ship workers stranded all over the world, Union organiser Saina Tomi Setu said many of them are struggling to find work at home.

“Most of them are the main source of income for their family,” she told the Samoa Observer.

“Some of them are looking for jobs right now but unfortunately this is a terrible time for them to look for a job.”

Since the coronavirus pandemic forced countries to close off their borders to each other, thousands of Samoans have lost their jobs in the tourism industry. Every other sector that touches tourism like security, transport, retail, and agriculture has felt the impact too, Ms. Setu said. 

But she argues the Government has not given direct unemployment assistance or targeted support to anyone outside the traditional bounds of the tourism industry.

Encouraged by the news that another stimulus package is coming, she said she hopes seafarers will get some help.

“Anything would help their families right now in this time of difficulty. That is their priority, to look after their family.”

Ms. Setu said there are around 70 union member seafarers, and each of them are struggling to find new work but are still expected to be the main earner in their family. 

They are returning to the land and planting taro like many others around the country, but the market is overflowing with it and the prices are low.

“I think it’s only for family food, but it’s hard for them to get money right now.” 

Last month, S.F.U. hosted the returned sailors for a meeting and heard how they had struggled to find their feet back home.

 “We are really happy we have our boys back home, we found it difficult to bring them to Samoa, but finally, we thank God, we thank the Government who brought the boys back,” she said.

“But we still need to think how can we help them. Seafarers contribute a lot to our country’s development.”

Asked whether she advocates for Government to get them back overseas and in new on-board contracts, she said during the pandemic it is safer for them to stay at home.

“Going back into a new contract would be great income for them and a great solution for this difficult time but we have to prioritise their safety.

“We don’t want to walk again in this situation we just passed. They were begging to come home but it was hard for our Government to decide to bring them.

“We really want to get them new contracts, but opportunities will come in the future. If you lose a life to the pandemic… it is better to stay in Samoa, near your family.” 

Instead, she hopes they will be included in the next round of Government support. Whether that is cash in hand or targeted help towards their next career, she doesn’t mind.

Meanwhile, the union is working with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (I.T.F.), of which S.F.U. is an affiliate, to prepare surveys and tailored support programmes for the seafarers.  

“We are working together with the I.T.F. since the time the boys started there and continue to work together on how we are going to help them,” she said. 

“Hopefully we will get some help from I.T.F. and also from our Government. The boys arrived after the stimulus package, so if they [helped] the hotel sector workers they should too for the seafarers.” 

The last time she approached a Government spokesperson on what might be available to seafarers was at an International Labour Organisation event, where she was told: “they will go and grow koko.

“Every day, there is a growing number of laid off workers in Samoa so one of my wishes is that Government will prioritise all the laid off workers and their families who are affected in this pandemic,” Ms. Setu said. 

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