ASG officials testify to House there is no pending OT unpaid
Human Resources Department director Sonny Thompson told House members several times yesterday there is no pending overtime that has not been paid and this was the same statement echoed by ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili, who said there is no current overtime pending in the government’s financial “system”.
The directors, along with Immigration Office official Faga Fualaau and deputy chief Customs officer Loloaso Wightman Uia appeared yesterday before the House Budget and Appropriations Committee to discuss concerns received by lawmakers over the non payment of overtime.
Committee chairman Timusa Tini Lam Yuen told the witnesses that he alone had been approached by five individuals working with Customs, Immigration and Agriculture’s Quarantine Division regarding problems with overtime pay. He says he is sure his colleagues have received the same number of complaints.
Asked by the chairman and other committee members if overtime is still allowed — and who approves overtime — Thompson said he approves all overtime under a directive by the governor, and the government must still pay overtime because it’s both federal and local law.
However, he says there is a specific provision of the law as to who doesn’t qualify to be paid overtime, and those who do qualify are paid time-and-a half.
And following a U.S. Department of Labor review — which resulted in ASG paying out more than $900,000 to ASG workers last year — it was confirmed by the feds that anyone making $380 or more a week, or who makes decisions in the workforce and has two or more people under his/her supervision — that person is considered exempt from being eligible for overtime, he said.
Thompson also pointed out the governor issued a Jan. 3, 2013 memo regarding cost containment, which appears to have been misinterpreted by others that the government is no longer paying overtime, but that is not true.
The head of DHR also said new people have been hired for both Customs and Immigration offices to ensure there is no overtime, and that staff are spread out during their working hours to cover all shifts.
He explained that any department wanting employees to work overtime must prepare a submission in advance. For example, the Department of Public Safety during certain times of the year requires police officers to work overtime and such a request is prepared and sent to his office in advance for approval, prior to anyone working overtime.
Thompson also pointed out there are “emergency” situations, for example, when a Public Works crew must immediately respond to a problem — and there are exceptions given to such cases, where the paperwork is prepared and submitted later.
“I don’t have any overtime pending that has not been paid,” Thompson said in response to the committee’s questions and this was supported by Pili, who said there is no overtime pending in the “system” that has yet to be paid.
Pili added there are issues dealing with Customs Officers, and these are not in the “system” yet. He noted there is a verification process that needs to be done, as there have been past cases where people claimed double time or worked for a 24-hour period.
Responding to a committee question, Thompson said there has been no overtime paid since the start of the current fiscal year for Customs and the only request he has received to approve overtime work is for five staff at the Territorial Office of Fiscal Reform (TOFR) because of the current annual audits.
Timusa said that there is a person who worked from the morning to the evening hours and still has not been paid overtime. Thompson responded that he does not believe anything like this has happened as more people have been hired to ensure there is no overtime accrued, especially in Customs and Immigration.
However, he suggested that any lawmakers with this kind of case, should have the individual bring details and records to the attention of their supervisor to ensure it’s checked and verified.
More from the hearing in tomorrow’s edition.
With their appearance before the House yesterday, it would seem the overtime issue has been resolved, as they now both say there is no pending overtime unpaid or pending in the system. That was not the case when they appeared before the Senate, last month.
In January 2014, Samoa News reported that a petition had been signed by close to 30 Customs officers regarding their unpaid overtime and comp time. The petition was sent to senators as well as sent to the Equal Employment Officer, Sam Tinae in January.
As a result, a Senate hearing called by the Senate Budget and Appropriation Committee chaired by Sen. Laolagi was held in January on the issue, in which both men were also called testify.
At the time, Pili told the senators that close to $60,000 was needed to pay the Customs Office overtime, which the Customs employees claim had not been paid since July 2013. He also told Senators the said overtime was incurred from pay periods 15 to 24, which was last year July.
“The problem is that these overtimes are not found within the system, and … some of these customs agents are not entitled to overtime,” he explained. “The Department of Treasury is trying to find a way to pay these hours off — either by actually paying them out or offsetting them for time off.”
Pili said the Customs Agents were rushing the issue, yet they (Treasury) were looking at solving this matter before the upcoming pay period.
"This is a very serious issue and we are very mindful of the Department of Labor laws into overtime," said Pili.
"At the same time the spreadsheet that I have on the Customs officer’s hours — it’s quite impossible for anyone to have worked that many hours, which is why we are reviewing this very, very carefully before it’s input into the system; then we can determine if they are entitled to overtime or comp time," he told Senators.
Thompson testified as to who is legally entitled to OT and comp time, which was reiterated during yesterday’s House hearing.