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StarKist glad for U.S. Senate vote to delay wage hikes

fili@samoanews.com

StarKist Co. is “pleased” to learn that the U.S Senate approved last Friday a further delay in the minimum wage hikes in American Samoa, while the company’s local cannery operations are currently shut down for their annual two week Christmas holiday.

The delay in minimum wage hike was included in the Insular Area Act, now with the U.S. House for consideration and if the bill is approved, the hikes will be further delayed until 2015.

“...we are hopeful that the [U.S] House will also approve the legislation soon,” said StarKist spokesperson Mary Sestric responding to Samoa News questions. She also said that company president and chief executive officer In-Soo Cho spoke with Congressman Faleomavaega Eni yesterday “to express his thanks for the Congressman’s work on this important initiative.”

As the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) verified in their report published in June 2011, “the erosion of the advantages American Samoa previously enjoyed and the increases in minimum wage are detrimental to a unique, isolated island economy dependent upon a single industry — an industry that has become extremely competitive on a global basis,” said Sestric via e-mail from the company’s headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa.

“A three-year delay in the wage increases is a critical factor in StarKist’s ability to keep its American Samoa operations competitive,” she points out. “Equally important to StarKist’s success is an improved infrastructure in American Samoa, and we look forward to finalizing our plans to build a freezer for our American Samoan operations. 

She also said that the company is “pleased to receive renewed support” from Gov. Togiola Tulafono, the American Samoa Government and the  community as a whole while the StarKist Board of Directors and executive team were on island recently for their board meeting.

“We look forward to bringing this [freezer] project to fruition for the mutual benefit of StarKist and American Samoa,” said Sestric. “Improved infrastructure such as this, when combined with stability in wage rates and other cost factors, is an essential step in restoring American Samoa to its prior position as a global hub for the tuna industry.”

Cho along with Dongwon Industries board chairman Jae-chul Kim, emphasized during a news conference two weeks ago the importance of continuous collaborative efforts between the two companies and the territorial government as well as the local community in order for American Samoa be more competitive in the global tuna processing industry.

Kim and Cho were in the territory for the StarKist board meeting and both attended the news conference called by StarKist at the cannery’s plant in Satala.

South Korea based Dongwon owns StarKist.

HOLIDAY BREAK

Meanwhile the annual two week downtime at the cannery at the end of the year began this past weekend with production to resume Jan. 2, 2012. Production shutdowns allow the company to carry out maintenance and other necessary repairs to prepare operations for the New Year.

Each employee was given three cases of wahoo as a Christmas Gift pack before production officially shutdown for two weeks, said Sestric.

Usually during the downtime, many StarKist Samoa workers head to neighboring Samoa for the holidays and the company plans to make public announcements — both here and in Apia — when it’s close to the date for production to resume.

Unlike years past, when the cannery was faced with a shortage of workers at the start of the new year — with workers either not returning or returning after a long delay — Starkist is no longer faced with this problem.

StarKist Samoa general manager Brett Butler said earlier this month that there is currently a sufficient labor pool in the territory.

“...obviously with one cannery now, the supply of labor is more than what we’ve seen in the past when there were two canneries,” Butler said at the StarKist news conference.



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