Like many South Pacific seasonal workers, Samoan agricultural employees are easy pickings for dodgy employers.
The Samoan economy, with its heavy reliance on tourism, took a big hit from COVID-19.
Many workers have instead come to Australia temporarily to work in understaffed sectors such as fruit picking and meat processing. For the workers, this means hard currency that can help family back in the Pacific. For unscrupulous labour-hire companies, it is a ready pool of people to exploit.
APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad has a long association with Samoa First Union (SFU). Founded in 2015, SFU is the first and only private sector union in Samoa and has become well-known nationally for its advocacy for workers’ rights across a broad spectrum of industries and issues.
More than 3000 workers, primarily those in the tourism and hospitality sectors represented by SFU were laid off during COVID-19. Therefore, many Samoans participated instead in seasonal worker programs in Australia and New Zealand.
With many workers in remote towns, and not familiar with local industrial relations and rental laws, some agencies have ripped off guest workers with poor wages and high accommodation costs.
With the vast majority of members now undertaking seasonal work, SFU had to shift its focus. Most weekday mornings, a long queue of prospective and returned seasonal workers wait outside SFU’s office in Samoa’s capital, Apia (pictured above), seeking their assistance and support through the labour migration process – from helping with their applications, contracts and police checks, to assisting them to claim their entitlements while overseas, and outstanding superannuation on their return home.
Working in concert with Australian and New Zealand unions, SFU has been able to document and speak out about poor employment practices.