Seasonal workers scheme needs balance: Samoa PM Mata’afa

PHOTO: Government of Samoa

Samoan Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa says there needs to be a circular process for the seasonal workers scheme to ensure human resource constraints in Samoa are dealt with in a balanced manner. 

Mata’afa made the comments in a joint press conference with her New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern at the New Zealand Parliament building on Tuesday. 

She acknowledged the importance of labour mobility to the economy, noting the need for a circular process “so that human constraint in countries like Samoa can respond appropriately in a balanced manner”.   

Since taking office in July last year, the Prime Minister said her new Administration has had concerns about the scheme and noticed its impact on the development sector.

“The original idea was the recruitment would be from the unemployed sector and its possibly a lapse from our part on recruitment and screening,” she told the media. 

She said it’s impact has become clear from the public sector to private sector, manufacturing and tourism industry who are losing human resources to the seasonal workers’ scheme. 

“The RSE, especially during COVID period, people losing jobs impacted livelihoods and this scheme has provided for our family and we are mindful of that. 

“You note from our comment we need to have more balance. I think it’s a good opportunity for the new Administration, not only to review for ourselves but have further dialogue with partners on this scheme like New Zealand and Australia.” 

She also made it clear the Government has not halted the scheme, but has rather slowed down the recruitment process, until a review on the programme is complete. 

She also used the opportunity to thank Ardern and her Government for assisting Samoa by supplying COVID-19 vaccines which has enabled Samoa to plan for the reopening of its borders in August this year. 

The Prime Minister was scheduled to meet with Samoan seasonal workers today.

Meanwhile, as Samoa’s government reviews its RSE scheme in New Zealand and Australia, a local NGO says infidelity is one of the issues within the scheme causing family members to seek social support.

Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) spokesperson Pepe Tevaga said while the scheme has benefitted many Samoan families, in some cases, couples had had to separate as husbands then married fellow RSE workers while working abroad.

As a result, jilted women have applied to the courts in Samoa for maintenance support for themselves and their children.

Tevaga said the women were usually unemployed and most lived with their in-laws in Samoa while the husband worked under the RSE scheme.

Once the husband confirms his new relationship, the former wife is forced to leave the husband’s family, especially if the husband returns with a new partner to stay with his family.

Women have also sought counselling as some have been suicidal.

Tevaga said children from broken families had been in the care of their shelters while the mothers looked for work.

From SVSG’s perspective, the whole RSE process – from local recruitment of workers to medical checks, to character checks, to pre-departure orientation and ongoing workers support overseas – required improvement and system strengthening.

This would ensure that those taking up the opportunity to work under the RSE scheme would prevent their remaining family members to go through social hardships..

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