Union expands services as job losses mount

The Samoa First Union has had to expand its services beyond its role as a labour rights organisation as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause job losses across the country.

In the last three months the union has begun entrepreneur training with support from the International Labour Organisation, in a bid to get workers back on their feet after being laid off from their jobs in tourism, retail, hospitality, transport and more. 

Senior Organiser Saina Tomi Setu said there is no way the union would not have stepped up to help. 

“It’s not our role, our role is to educate workers on their rights, but we have to do it to help Samoan workers,” she said.

And while people have known about S.F.U. for several years, the pandemic has seen a swell of activity in their small office in the Sanalele complex as laid-off workers look for help. 

“When something hits them they come and say we really need your help. We can’t refuse them because they are workers  but our aim and our vision is to educate more workers in their rights.

“If our workers understand their rights, it solves issues in work sites.” 

She said hundreds of non-union members have come through their doors in the last few months alone.

The idea for the entrepreneur training came from a survey that S.F.U. and I.L.O. ran in 2020 to quickly figure out how many people had been laid off since Samoa closed its borders and in what sectors.

The survey also asked respondents what they thought they needed in order to survive the pandemic.

“Most of them, especially the laid off workers, said they will go back to agriculture, while some said it’s a good time to start a small business.

“You can see a lot of small stalls in front of the road. That is why the I.LO. recommended to provide this training.” 

The week of training is for 30 people at a time and involves two days of course work, and three days out in the field meeting successful business owners, making it work throughout the pandemic. 

People have come from all sorts of affected sectors, including hospitality and retail but also security and manufacturing. 

The I.L.O.’s rapid assessment was released in June 2020, and found at that time 26 per cent of workers had lost jobs, with 64 per cent of them women.

Out of the survey results, the I.L.O. said Governments need to help redundant workers with wage subsidies, unemployment insurance and job guarantee schemes to protect their livelihoods.

Opening a new business amidst a pandemic will come with challenges too. According to the February survey from the Pacific Business Monitor, business owners across the region have tried a range of methods to keep their company afloat.

But they keep coming up against the same barriers: a lack of cash and access to finance and a lack of Government support or stimulus measures.

Out of the … surveyed, 41 per cent said they struggled saving their business by reducing costs, diversifying their offerings, and moving online, to name a new.

Of those, 40 per cent said a lack of finance and cash was the main barrier, and 37 per cent said it was down to a lack of Government support or stimulus. 

A small retailer in Tonga told the surveyors: “Strict Government policies against access to finance and underdeveloped infrastructure to enable e-commerce during this challenging time,” was a major issue. 

A recent publication from the research arm of the ANZ bank found that a total of 18 per cent of Samoans employed in the formal workforce lost their jobs in 2020. 

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