Samoan Workers Win Minimum Wage Boost
Samoa First Union (SFU) was formed in 2015 by First Union New Zealand. First Union wanted to develop a union for private sector workers as the Samoan community within its membership was concerned by the exploitation and lack of representation for workers in Samoa. In 2016, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA began supporting the project, and it has been a journey of learning ever since. The project focuses on capacity building and developing appropriate approaches and tactics that fit within the Samoan culture.
One of the SFU’s strengths has been the engagement with the community through adapted community organising. This is based on one-to-one conversations aimed at educating ordinary Samoans about the shared impacts of poorly codified worker rights and the need for changes that protect the values of fairness and equity for workers. In a country where tourism plays a major part in the economy, much of the money that is profit for the foreign owned resorts goes overseas to parent companies and is not spent within Samoa. Add to this the current COVID-19 crisis and, like other Pacific economies, Samoa is struggling with huge job losses and a debt burden to foreign Governments.
Advocating for workers amidst two States of Emergency
Despite having dealt with two declared State of Emergencies in the last six months (a measles epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic), the SFU has been tenacious in advocating for Samoan workers.
In January 2020, an increase to the minimum wage was legislated with a whopping $0.70 sene increase from $2.30 tālā to $3.00 tālā an hour. No public sector worker receives less than $4 tālā per hour so this increase was very important to the private sector. This, together with the work of the union to advocate for special consideration during COVID-19 for sustenance has been important to raising the interests of the lowest paid workers.
Crisis grows gap between public and private sector workers
In Samoa and the Pacific , each crisis – such as COVID-19 or a savage tropical storm – results in the government giving special permission for workers who lose their jobs to have access to their superannuation savings to pay their bills. There is no form of social security as we know it, but it is regarded generally that the family has to look after each other. While the family is a safety net, the result is that the poorest workers are less likely to be able to have adequate monies for retirement and the inequities between the public and private sector workers continue. This means that public sector workers might have a greater financial advantage, but they also carry a greater burden paying for the bills within the extended family.
The future: building a strong union and growing members
After securing the important increase in the minimum wage, the next twelve months will be a time for SFU to focus on building and strengthening their internal organising capacity to grow their membership and to develop leadership within the union. As the only private sector union in Samoa, SFU has to deal with every industry in the country. Just because the economy and population is small does not mean that the problems are small. There is a need to develop a critical base of activists and leaders to grow, advocate and be a powerful voice for workers.
The long-term aim of having sustainable projects, especially ones targeting the development of independent unions, is vital. It means that all workers have the dignity of determining their own futures.
Solidarity Across Borders
As the global justice organisation of the trade union movement, Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA works to bolster the power of social movements and trade unions across the globe. By becoming a member, you will be supporting trade unions like the Samoa First Union mount powerful campaigns that can win good wages, safe workplaces, and decent conditions.