Min wage report shows benefits for workers, but not for StarKist
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — During its assessment of the local minimum wage increase, the US Government Accountability Office interviewed selected employers and workers, and they noted — among other things — a “potential positive impact on the livelihood of workers but a potential negative impact on the remaining cannery.”
GAO released its 2020 report on American Samoa last week Thursday and was submitted — as required by federal law — to US congressional members. Included in the report is a summary of the GAO interviews with employers and workers from the public and private sectors.
The investigative arm of the US Congress interviewed employers and their workers: the American Samoa government and three of its component units; and StarKist Samoa.
To supplement these employers and their workers, GAO requested that the American Samoa Chamber of Commerce select additional employers and their workers on the basis of criteria related to the tuna canning, construction, and retail industries, among other things.
According to GAO, public and private sector employers and workers interviewed commented on the impact of minimum wage increases, including potential benefits and challenges.
POTENTIAL POSITIVE IMPACT
Employers and workers interviewed stated that increasing the minimum wage would have a positive impact on the livelihood of workers, according to GAO, citing for example, a worker said that minimum wage increases have helped offset the increasing prices of imported products and excise taxes.
Another worker stated that minimum wage increases help people to meet their community and church financial obligations. Some employers and workers noted that minimum wage increases improve customers’ ability to pay bills and their likelihood of using necessary services.
POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT
Asked about the potential negative impact on the remaining cannery, GAO said workers and employers generally stated that minimum wage increases could lead to a potential negative impact on StarKist Samoa. Multiple workers stated that such impact could result in a loss of jobs and increases in shipping costs, among other things.
The GAO report says some public employers were concerned that minimum wage increases could lead to the closure of the remaining cannery, and one employer stated that the potential closure was the main factor in the minimum wage increase discussion.
In the public sector, one worker said StarKist Samoa closing is a major concern because the company is the main source of tax revenue. Another worker added that having already seen a cannery close after minimum wage increases has raised concerns that it might happen again with StarKist Samoa.
Regarding the issue of “increased recruitment and retention of workers”, the GAO said some employers and workers noted that a higher minimum wage could lead to increased recruitment and retention.
For example, multiple employers noted the challenges of recruiting and retaining skilled workers given the low wages on the island, which often compel such workers to leave the island for better opportunities.
One employer said that it could not recruit without minimum wage increases, while another stated that even low-paid workers often leave the island to obtain better pay in higher-paying countries.
“Some employers and workers noted that the lack of staff, especially nurses and teachers, has led to challenges, such as a negative impact on healthcare and education on the island,” said GAO.
One of these employers told GAO that the minimum wage is too low and there is a lack of good teachers on the island. This employer was upset that a local school did not have a math teacher, noting that teachers leave or simply do not come to work because the pay is so low.
Some workers informed GAO that nurses have moved off-island because their pay is too low and because overwork has contributed to potential health hazards.
FUNDING FUTURE MINIMUM WAGE HIKES
GAO also asked about funding for minimum wage increases, which multiple employers and workers said they were concerned about how future minimum wage increases could be funded.
For example, a public employer noted that the company did not oppose the minimum wage increases because the current minimum wage was barely enough to survive on, but was concerned about where the funding and revenue to sustain the increases would come from. Another employer stated that identifying additional funds for minimum wage increases is a major challenge.