Lolo reactivates Guest Worker Permit to bolster Starkist employment
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In light of the “severe and acute absenteeism challenge” faced by StarKist Samoa, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has authorized the reactivation of the “Guest Worker Permit Law”, which allows the cannery to hire workers from Samoa based on certain requirements.
Samoa News received information recently that StarKist Samoa — which resumed production Jan. 7th following its usual end-of-the-year two week down time — is faced with a shortage of workers at the plant.
The company had sought the governor’s assistance to recruit workers under the Guest Worker Permit program, enacted a few years ago, which authorizes the Attorney General “to issue guest worker permits... for the purpose of entry of persons of Samoan ancestry born in the Independent State of Samoa into American Samoa for purposes of employment by either of the two canneries or call center.”
The law provides specific requirements of eligibility for a guest worker permit.
Samoa News understands that the most needed workers at the cannery are "fish cleaners" and StarKist Samoa started advertising for qualified, experienced, honest, and able-bodied individuals to fill the positions. The first advertisement was published in Thursday’s Samoa News.
StarKist Samoa general manager, Sangdong Kwon early this month sought the governor's assistance and thereafter, there was a meeting between cannery and ASG officials.
In a Jan. 11th letter to Kwon, the governor acknowledged receiving Kwon’s Jan. 8th letter which documented the company’s request for “authorization to reactivate” the issuance of the “Guest Worker Permit” law, which “aimed to cure employment challenges confronted by the canneries with said permission limited to the entry of persons of Samoan ancestry born in the Independent State of Samoa”.
“In light of the severe and acute absenteeism challenge, which is negatively affecting StarKist’s productivity and financial viability, along with the difficulty in finding replacement workers within the territory,” Lolo informed Kwon about the reactivation of the Guest Worker Program, as defined in local law.
“This authority will continue as long as StarKist continues to face this chronic absenteeism and recruitment problem,” Lolo wrote.
Kwon was advised to work with the Attorney General’s Office and the Immigration Office to ensure that all provisions of the law receive full compliance.
“Given the adverse impact on the influx of guest workers on the resources, utilities, infrastructure, and basic services of American Samoa,” the governor asked StarKist to “practice due diligence in utilizing those individuals from Samoa who are already living in the territory and particularly with first preference recruitment of American Samoa nationals.”
The governor’s letter was copied to Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga; Immigration Board chair, Fanene Edda Wybersky; Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale; Chief Immigration Officer, Peseta Dennis Lutu; StarKist Samoa official Taotasi Archie Soliai; and StarKist Samoa deputy general manager Fa’afo’i Palepua.
StarKist Inc. corporate spokesperson Michelle Faist didn’t immediately respond to Samoa News email questions and request for comments.
The absenteeism problem for the territory’s largest private employer comes on the heels of many other existing challenges already faced by the cannery.
OTHER CANNERY CHALLENGES
The governor cited some of these challenges during his State of the Territory Address to the Fono joint-session on Monday this week.
“We very appreciative for the continued commitment by StarKist Samoa to remain in American Samoa in spite of continuing challenges caused by impractical federal policies such as the recently imposed federal minimum wage increase, aggressive enforcement of environmental laws, shrinking of fishing grounds, China’s dominance of the fishing industry through hefty subsidization, and the high cost of fish due to escalating prices for Exclusive Economic Zones fishing permits,” he said.
“The long-term future of StarKist is very precarious given the litany of challenges it must continually battle, coupled with the rising Chinese dominance, which has and will substantially and continuously erode StarKist’s competitive advantage,” he added.
In the 75-page 2019 State of the Territory Comprehensive Report, which is sent to the Fono and the US Department of Interior, the Lolo Administration provided a summary of the “Economy & the Tuna Industry”.
For example, short and long term plans include an expansion of the StarKist footprint — such as the lease agreement with Samoa Tuna Processors (STP) — and the expansion of operations in the next two years. 80% of total production for StarKist is in American Samoa and the company controls 85- 90% of the tuna pouch market in the world.
(It has already been public information that StarKist will use the STP facility to expand its local tuna pouch production. Samoa News learned early this month that the company's tuna pouch production operation at the Tafuna Industrial Park relocated to STP earlier this month. Faist is yet to respond to Samoa News requests for confirmation of the relocation.)
According to the Comprehensive Report, StarKist is hiring in American Samoa as it expands the pouch market into the territory. It also revealed that “StarKist has verbally committed to stay in the territory for another 50 years.”
The report notes that federal tax credit 30A, which gives US Tax credit to StarKist, has expired, and Congresswoman Aumua Amata continues to ensure revitalizing the legislation, providing a competitive edge to US investments in US territories. “Products manufactured here are ‘Made in US’ and therefore tax exempt as it enters into the US market,” it says.
Also cited in the report is the fact that the ASG Tax Exempt Board has provided Exemption Certificates to StarKist, for all imported goods supporting its operations, and they are exempted from excise taxes on fish, petroleum and all goods imported.
(Samoa News should point out that it is not known if the excise tax exemption includes the container scanning fee and other associated Customs inspection fees. The report does not mention it specifically.)
According to the report, “concerns that have a direct implication on the canneries are the Fishing Monument Agreement, and as a result, the canneries have to purchase fish from foreign fishing fleets as the US fleets are heavily regulated”.
“These concerns further negatively impact StarKist ability to remain competitive,” the report points out.