Samoa’s Minister of Commerce Industry and Labour, Honorable Leatinuu Wayne Sooialo officially opened the Pacific Labour Mobility Annual Meeting in Apia on Tuesday 8 November 2022.
Held at Samoa’s beautiful Taumeasina Island Resort, the theme of this year’s annual conference is, “Reinvigorating Labour Mobility Cooperation for Development”.
It is the first face to face PLMAM since the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Samoa, like other countries, was not immune to the impacts of the pandemic,” said Leatinuu.
The Minister spoke about the need to take up learnings and make ajustments in order to effectively respond to the post-COVID environment.
“The economic effects, the pressures on our health systems and the overwhelming uncertainties it created were the realities we had to face.”
The Minister said PLMAM is a significant medium to ensure the Pacific advances inclusive regional labour mobility cooperation.
“I would like to acknowledge the support of PACER Plus Signatories and the ALM Participants for giving Samoa the opportunity to host this meeting, even though Samoa hosted the virtual PLMAM this time last year”.
The Minister thanked the PACER Plus Implementation Unit as the Labour Mobility Secretariat for facilitating the logistics and meeting arrangements.
“Thank you to the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand for the continuous support towards PLMAM including support through the PACER Plus Development Economic Cooperation Work Programme and the Arrangement on Labour Mobility”.
Leatinuu said for Samoa, the COVID-19 Pandemic highlighted numerous vulnerabilities such as the limitations in public health systems and dependence on tourism receipts “which we envision will take years to recover..”
The Minister said challenges and adverse effects faced by local businesses, have been countered by several Government stimulus packages since the year 2020.
“This included substantial support from our international development partners and UN agencies.”
“In the 12 months since our new Government was deployed from September 2021 to September 2022, Stimulus packages amounting to $44.1 million Samoan tala have been disbursed to boost our businesses, especially the tourism industry as well as our communities”
“For the financial year 2022 to 2023, the Government has earmarked $62 million tala as part of its stimulus packages that are aimed at helping to revive, boost and sustain our economy”.
The Minister quoted World Tourism Organisation estimates that state it could take up to four years for international tourism to recover to pre-pandemic levels of 2019.
“Tourism is an essential source of jobs and livelihoods,” said Leatinuu. “Ensuring that we continue to support measures that reflect local needs and opportunities that further enhance our national resilience”.
The Pathway for the Development of Samoa 2021/2022 to 2025/2026 highlights “Increased Labour Mobility” as a key Priority area.
“It is our aspiration to expand international labour market opportunities for those living in Samoa, in a sensible and manageable way,” said the Minister.
“Expected outcomes for this Key Priority Area includes increased deployments, expanded numbers of labour mobility schemes and Samoa’s professional workers’ footprints in the Pacific regions increased”.
The Minister acknowledged that since the COVID19 pandemic, Labour Mobility opportunities have become even more critical to help support economic and social recovery efforts particularly at the household level.
“The contributions by Seasonal Workers to improving the standard of living of their families and Samoa’s economic recovery during these COVID times is perhaps best reflected in the substantial increase in Remittances that Samoa received in the 12 months period that coincided with the implementation of our new Government”.
In the 12 months to September 2022, Samoa received a total of $791.7 million tala of remittances.
“This is a substantial increase from the $607.8 million of remittances in the equivalent 12 months to September 2021” said Leatinuu.
Despite the successes achieved to date the Labour Mobility Schemes that Samoa partakes in, numerous challenges remain, which prompts the need for us to ensure that a balanced approach is considered in line with our other national development priorities..
“For instance, the concerns regarding “brain drain” due to some of our semi-skilled and skilled workers being sent overseas under the Labour Mobility Schemes and the concerns raised by our local employers who have lost workers that they’ve trained and invested in their upskilling, are crucial issues that I’m certain, not only Samoa but also all our labour sending Pacific Island countries need to seriously address”.
The Samoa Labour Minister reiterated a balanced approach as the conference participants move into the next two days of meetings and discussions.
“The theme of this Meeting is “Reinvigorating Labour Mobility Cooperation for Development.. I believe that such level of cooperation also needs to take into account the foundations of our culture and heritage which have ensured social harmony in our Pacific Islands region”.
“There is no denying the fact that increased levels of workers from Samoa migrating to NZ and Australia under the Labour Mobility schemes, have affected the very core of our families, the fabric that holds together our communities through families being separated for prolonged periods of time and other social issues that have arisen”.
“I believe there will be rich knowledge sharing throughout the next three days, and I wish all Participants a successful meeting and an enjoyable stay in our Beautiful Samoa”.
The PLMAM sessions and side events continue for the next two days.