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USDOL report highlights ways it will safeguard pay, work conditions in AS

Educating the local community that live-in domestic workers are entitled to the federal minimum wage and identifying semi autonomous agencies not paying the required federal wages to its workers are some of the interesting issues pointed out in a U.S. Department of Labor report on its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) dealing with American Samoa.


The report, which outlines WHD’s commitment to promoting and achieving compliance with labor standards for which it has enforcement authority in the U.S. Pacific areas, came about two months after ASG and USDOL signed a memorandum of understanding, setting up a field office in Pago Pago, where a WHD investigator is stationed.


According to the report, WHD’s partnership with communities in the U.S. Pacific jurisdiction, help agencies of territorial governments better communicate and work together to strengthen compliance at the local level.


The most recent partnership, for example, is the one established between WHD and the American Samoa Government (ASG), which is responsible for administering and enforcing locally entitled wages, overtime premiums and record-keeping requirements for its government-wide workforce.


A locally stationed WHD investigator will work with local ASG staff to provide technical assistance for their formation of a federally mandated federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policy for its employees as well as ensuring compliance — via training — with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), according to USDOL.


ASG is now working with the WHD investigator “to identify additional back wages owed for potential non-compliant policies in its semi-autonomous agencies” such as the community college, public library, hospital and telecommunications center, the report says.


It also points to the MOU in which ASG acknowledged that it does not have a local department of labor enforcing any safeguards for wages, work conditions or child labor employment in the private sector.


Therefore, the MOU states that the WHD will train local ASG managerial and investigative staff after ASG formulates their own labor department to assist private sector workers who are not covered by federal wage or safety standards.


USDOL-WDH is committed to safeguarding the pay, working conditions and FMLA protections of the government workers and therefore the local WHD investigator will be a point of contact to assist federally covered employers and employees in the American Samoa private sector who have not had a USDOL local contact office for either technical assistance/outreach or complaint in-take purposes, it says.


As a result of the WDH office opened in Pago Pago, the report says, “we have begun receiving valid complaints on covered private sector employers” and the current WHD office will create a more timely service in the future to assist low wage workers in this remote island community who had never experienced a sustained USDOL presence.


“Specifically, we plan to staff the local office with rotational WHD over the course of the fiscal year to enhance compliance levels in the private and public sectors,” the report says, adding that another key component of a sustained presence in American Samoa is “our outreach work in an NGO community that is assisting exploited and/or trafficked individuals housed in their shelters.”


“Specifically, the [WHD] will continue to educate the American Samoa community that all live-in domestic workers—foreign national and local— are entitled to...minimum wage [law],” it says, and the “MOU will allow us to provide federal compliance assistance materials - via ASG Immigration - to employers petitioning foreign nationals to work in the homes of American Samoan residents.”


According to the report, WHD has developed a three year strategic plan to grow compliance levels through enforcement and education outreach within the government and private sector, as well as assisting live-in foreign national domestic workers who are not paid their lawfully entitled minimum wage.


WHD’s American Samoa strategic plan incorporates the MOU between ASG and WHD which includes training of local governmental staff to assist low wage workers who would not otherwise be covered under federal labor statutes.


The report reveals that WDH makes frequent and varied outreach and education efforts to employee and employer communities to increase public awareness and compliance with federal wage and hour laws.


WHD has also made significant investments in the creation of extensive multi-lingual guidance to inform employees of their rights and employers of their responsibilities under the law, according to the report, which also mentioned that USDOL collected close to $1 million last year from ASG for back-wages of several employees who were not paid according to the federal law regarding overtime.