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Former employees file official complaint against Manu’a Store

joy@samoanews.com

Three former employees for the Manu’a Store have filed an official complaint with the Equal Opportunity Office, noting that they were underpaid and received bad treatment by their employer.  The complaint, which was received by EEO Sam Tinae in the middle of last year  was transferred to Human Resources Department Director Sonny Thompson in November, who then reached out to the United States Department of Labor for assistance.
 
Thompson in response to Samoa News queries confirmed the USDOL is conducting an investigation, but declined to further comment.  “All I can say is that the DOL is conducting an investigation into this matter.”
 
The three women told Samoa News they were getting paid $20 a day and if their performance was poor, their pay would be deducted. “… our pay has been deducted yet the job is already done,” said one disappointed woman.
 
However, store owner Mr. Chen told Samoa News that the women were not full time employees, rather they were working under a trainee program which ended mid year 2013. “Our trainee program ended in July 2013 due to criticism by the Equal Employment office when individuals filed complaints [against] our company.  
 
“We have had a number of trainees in the program who went on to become employees.  We have had around 40 individuals become employees through our trainee program. Some became employees within a week or so after training,” Mr Chen told Samoa News, adding this trainee program is well within Federal law and it is based under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
 
According to the FLSA defining “employ,” does not make all persons employees who, without any express or implied compensation agreement, work for their own advantage on the premises of another. Whether trainees or students are employees of an employer under the FLSA will depend upon all of the circumstances surrounding their activities on the premises of the employer. If all of the following criteria apply, the trainees or students are not employees within the meaning of the Act.
 
For the FLSA trainee program, the training is for the benefit of the trainees or students; the trainees or students do not displace regular employees, but work under close supervision; the employer that provides the training receives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees or students and, on occasion, his operations may even be impeded; the trainees or students are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period; and the employer and the trainees or students understand that the trainees or students are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
 
Mr. Chen explained a lot of their employees now working for the store have gone through the trainee program and those employees understood what the program was.
 
“The trainees worked under a supervisor or leader and if the trainee showed potential and fast improvement, then they became employees right away,” he said.
 
“Our program gauged which trainees would be good for our different departments and what positions they would hold. Some employees are now managers, HR employees, branch managers, cashiers, and other positions. If they did not show improvement or did not listen to their leaders or supervisors, we would let them go.  
 
“Tests were regularly given, such as customer service tests, attitude tests, math tests, etc… and many of the new  applicants could not pass elementary math, maybe around 90 percent”, according to Chen. “ Simple fraction additions are required for our material sections. Trainees needed to pass our assessment test and meet requirements by law to become employees.”
 
He said that as an employer, they used a trainee program to teach and train and eventually find the right employees. ”The employees who filed complaints either misunderstood or were not hired and in spite, are using the trainee program as an excuse to get back at our company.”  
 
Chen who has 55 full time employees and several part-timers, said they have had many trainees who benefited from the program, who have continued to work for their company.
 
“The applicants all signed a contract as trainee and it was in Samoan and English,” said Chen.
 
Emails sent to the DOL representative for comment were not immediately returned.



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