Treasurer testifies on OT: "Unless it's in the system, it's not official"
While there may be no overtime to be paid in the “system”, ASG Treasurer Dr. Falema’o ‘Phil’ M. Pili says Treasury Department is working on addressing overtime claims made by Customs Officers, and records need to be fully reviewed to ensure all those who made claims are entitled to the overtime.
Pili’s comments came later in the 2-hour House Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday on unpaid overtime as claimed by employees in Customs, Immigration and Agriculture Department’s Quarantine Division.
Responding to lawmakers’ questions, Pili said there is no overtime pending in the “system”, but two committee members insisted this is incorrect, as they are aware of some Customs officers who have not been paid their overtime.
The committee also pointed out there is a law that provides funds to pay overtime for immigration, customs and quarantine officers who work after hours to provide clearance of airlines at the airport and vessels coming into port. (Samoa News should point out that this particular law is called Customs Officers Service Fees, under ASTCA 27.1018)
Pili responded the law referred to by the committee is the “clearance fee” — and no where in the law — which is $15 per hour paid by the airline and vessel — does it say it is meant to pay overtime for staff working after hours.
He also said that money collected under the clearance fee is included in the annual budget submission under the budget item “Miscellaneous” income.
“So these are clearance fees, but not to pay overtime,” he said, adding that as long as the overtime is not in the computer system, it’s not official.
The Treasurer noted there may be time cards claiming overtime, but that is not official, when they are in a desk drawer.
Specifically for Customs, Pili said total overtime submitted for Customs stands at 2,500 hours covering payroll 15 to 24 (which was last year.). He explained these claims are still being reviewed after it was discovered that some hours are “doubled up” and some Customs officers appeared to be working a 24-hour shifts without sleep, and “that is not possible”.
Additionally, there are some cases where Customs officers take their annual leave but they return to work and then claim overtime, and this is “also not right”.
“So none of these cases are in the system, except they are on timecards and we’re working to address and clarify these claims,” he said. (It was not mentioned during the hearing, but these particular Customs overtime cases came to light after officers filed a petition with the ASG Equal Employment Opportunity Officer).
House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale brought up the “clearance fee” once again, saying this fee was put in the law to pay Customs overtime, but Pili reiterated that nothing in the law says such fees are to be used to pay overtime. Pili also said this was the same interpretation of the law by the Attorney General’s Office.
(See Samoa News edition on Jan. 22 on the Senate hearing on Customs overtime, as well as details of the law dealing with “clearance fees”.)
Immigration Office official Faga Fualaau and deputy chief customs officer Loloaso Wightman Uia explained to the committee they have hired an additional 12 employees for each office to ensure there is no overtime.
It was made clear by the ASG witnesses, which included Human Resources director Sonny Thompson, it was the governor’s directive to hire more people to ensure there is no overtime and to give others in the community jobs.
As for the Immigration office, Fualaau said there is no more overtime, since the hiring of new employees, and shifts are scheduled to ensure no overtime is accrued. For example, she said anyone who works in the office, but also works at night for the Hawaiian Airlines flight, will work in the office for five hours and make up the other three hours working the airport.
Asked by the committee as to what happens if the Hawaiian Air flight is delayed, Fualaau explained the airline puts out an advance notice if there is a delay, and scheduling is then re-done to ensure the employee works only 8-hours.
Fualaau, a former lawmaker, says staff are scheduled to be at the airport 30-minutes before flight arrival and Immigration has nine scan machines at the airport, which makes it easy and fast to clear incoming flights. She estimated that a full flight usually takes an hour-and-a half to clear, while most of the time it's only an hour.
Uia told the committee that since she took over the job about nine months ago, and she is also the time keeper, there is no longer overtime at the Customs Office. She said staff is scheduled for the airport and port to ensure no one works over eight hours.
For example, she said if an employee works a night shift covering eight hours, that person does not work the following day.
Thompson added a review of Immigration records last year found that several people were making a lot of overtime getting more than their regular pay, and thereafter the government decided to hire more personnel.
Thompson also explained that the new computer system in place ensures that no one can change the status of an employee, to indicate whether that person is entitled to overtime or not. He said the old computer system made it possible for someone in Payroll Division to change the status “but it will never happen under the new system”.
Local Statute on Customs Officers Service Fees under ASCA 27.1018:
(a) Charges shall be collected for services of customs officers from the owner, master or agency of a vessel as follows:
(1) attendance of customs officers at any place other than port of entry, per day, $30.00;
(2) attendance of customs officers outside of regular business hours, per hour, $15.00;
(3) granting clearance to commercial vessels per entry and per departure, $6.00;
(4) granting clearance to noncommercial vessels, per entry and per departure, $50.00.
(5) processing Customs Declaration of Entry forms, $5.00 per declaration per vessel. This charge shall not apply to passengers. The revenues from this charge shall be deposited in an account earmarked for and dedicated to the repayment of the government loan approved in 7.1444.5. Upon full repayment of said loan, collection of this tax shall be deposited in the general fund and shall be available for appropriation by the Legislature.
(b) The schedule of charges in paragraph (a) (1) and (a)(2) contemplates that those charges are calculated per man/per hour, or per man/per day, provided that where attendance of customs officers as paragraph (a)(1) is off Tutuila Island, the cost of travel, per diem, or other costs, including overtime, will be charged and collected from whomsoever requires such off-island attendance of customs officers.
The “government loan approved in 7.1444.5” is the $20million dollar loan from Retirement Fund, which the $5 per declaration form is earmarked to pay._ Samoa News should point out the fee services collected by the statute, from (a) 1 through (4) are not earmarked in the statute.