American Samoa's debate on rising wages
American Samoa continues to debate the impact if plans to raise the minimum wage go ahead.
As a federally mandated wage hike in American Samoa looms, the owner of a tuna cannery in the territory is arguing that wages should be determined by locals.
Tri Marine International's Samoa Tuna Processors plant was officially opened in American Samoa in January, and currently employs about 500 people, but says it cannot afford any future minimum wage increases.
The minimum wage in the territory is set to rise by 50 cents in September, following a three year wage freeze.
Tri Marine's chief operations officer, Joe Hamby, says the company has just started in the territory and increasing labour costs will have a negative impact on its young business.
Our correspondent, Fili Sagapolutele told Leilani Momoisea that Tri Marine believes wages should be determined by American Samoans, who know the local economy best.
FILI SAGAPOLUTELE: They're asking for a waiver for the entire minimum wage law so that way it's halted and doesn't move forward but I do understand from inside sources that Starkist Samoa along with Tri Marine does have lobbyists in Washington DC, they are pushing for issues to help the canning industry in American Samoa and the issue of the minimum wage is one of them. And again they're all fighting for the fact that no one in Washington knows exactly what is happening in the economy of American Samoa except for the people and government of American Samoa.
LEILANI MOMOISEA: Tri Marine's Chief Operating Office Joe Hamby has said that the global Tuna industry is extremely competitive, its strongest competitors are in Southeast Asia and increasing costs will obviously have a very negative impact on its young business. So what are we to read from that? Is he, in a way, threatening to leave American Samoa if it does have to put up with these wage hikes?
FS: There was someone that was asking locally if that was a threat. But the company said they're just trying to make their point of where they stand at this point and they've said that it has always been their belief that the minimum wage for American Samoa should be set by American Samoans. But there are always, though, others that have interpreted what Joe Hamby has said as a threat.
LM: Is there anything else that you think is important to add about this?
FS: The minimum wage issue is so very important for American Samoa going forward. The Chamber of Commerce has mentioned before that there aren't any new investment opportunities or new industries or new companies opening up in American Samoa in the past year except for Tri Marine which made a major investment, local businesses have argued as well that they can't afford to go forward any future minimum wage, and if they thoroughly review economic conditions in the territory that depends mostly on a lot of funding from the federal government. There's a lot of talk from people that they'd like to see a rise in the minimum wage because of the cost of living, but you also hear some people, some cannery workers who are saying that it's good to have a new minimum wage but they're afraid of losing their jobs if it goes back to a couple of years ago whee Starkist Samoa was forced to lay off 1,000 people. They'd rather have a job than no job at all.
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