Labour mobility a ‘double-edged word’: Samoa Chamber of Commerce President Seulupe

PHOTO: PINA

Samoa’s private sector members are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and are unable to take on the added expense of a minimum wage increase while navigating multiple challenges.  

That is the view of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce President and General Manager of British American Tobacco Samoa Ltd, Seulupe Michelle Macdonald.  

Joining a group of panellists at the Central Bank of Samoa (CBS) conference room last Friday, following the launching of an Asian Development Bank-authored Asian Development Outlook September 2023 report, Seulupe said while the private sector is not ready for an increase in the minimum wage, they also face multiple challenges post-pandemic. 

“We’ve been very much the advocates for pushing the minimum wage, however, and this is where the reality is…we’ve just come out of the pandemic, we’ve just come out of a Covid situation,” she said.  

“The businesses are still recovering so the reality is while we do appreciate the fact that we want to increase wages, the reality is we are still recovering as businesses and it is the cost of doing business and that’s the brutal reality. 

“You are talking about labour mobility, we are being hit by the cost of doing training, loss of labour, we are also being hit by the fact that these people are not here for nine months, now three-year schemes which was not the origin design of the RSE programmes.”

Seulupe described the labour mobility schemes – which have seen over 6,000 Samoans now work in the agriculture and horticulture sectors in Australia and New Zealand – as a “double-edged sword” that is now impacting Samoa’s economy. 

“Yes, we want to give them opportunities, but from the private sector perspective, the fact that we can’t retain our workers for a period of time is another issue and challenge that we have to [contend with],” she said. “Besides the fact that we have run our businesses and recover from the pandemic.”

According to the Chamber of Commerce President, currently, it is a “really tough space” to be in Samoa’s private sector, though she says it could be different in a few year’s time from now. 

The panellists in the discussions included Seve Benjamin Pereira, Assistant Governor Policy Group for the Central Bank, ADB Chief Economist Albert Park, Dean of the Asian Development Bank Institute in Tokyo Tetsushi Sonobe, ADB Principal Economist Ashish Narain, and Afualo Dr Wood Salele, Senior Lecturer at the National University of Samoa.

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