Thursday June 2022, Apia Samoa. The doors of the Loto Taumafai Society’s school for children and persons with disabilities were closed yesterday, Wednesday 8 June, when all 25 teachers took collective action to strike and did not turn up for work.
In an interview with Samoa Global News, School Principal Vaiana Otto said the school is expected to close indefinitely until issues with teachers salaries, are resolved.
“The teachers have not been paid since March, so for the past four months, seven pay periods have been missed,” she told SGN.
“Talu mai le masina o Mati seia oo mai ia Iuni, i lea fa masina, e lei toe maua lava ni totogi, e fitu pay ua misi e lē o maua..”
School Principal Vaiana Otto who has been with the Loto Taumafai Society for 39 years, said she sympathises with the staff who have shared their concerns with her. “I understand they all need money to take care of their families.”
She said the teachers had informed her of their intention to strike, but she did not know when it was planned for.
“So I was surprised when I came in this morning to find noone here and the school van still standing.. The van is supposed to pick up all the children in the morning but a teacher must accompany the driver..”
Mrs Otto said a letter outlining the teachers’ concerns has been delivered to the Loto Taumafai Board but they have not received a response according to the School Principal.
Loto Taumafai Society for People with Disabilities was established in 1980 as a non-government organisation set up to fill the gap in the education system that did not provide for inclusive education for children with disabilities. It’s work includes a community outreach program to regularly visit and provide support to children and persons with disabilities in the rural areas and Savaii.
“It was set up in 1980, driven by Ms Fesili Keil,” said Vaiana Otto, “and I joined the school in 1983”.
The school has since shifted from its original location at Motootua to its new building complex at Vaitele, built and funded by China.
Before Samoa moved to the sector-wide approach to education, Loto Taumafai and other NGOs providing inclusive education for children with disabilities in Samoa, had received direct funding support from the Australian Government through DFAT. Since the sector coordination approach, the NGOs receive allocated annual grant funds through MESC and MOF. There are also donations and in-kind support made by development partners and the business community from time to time.
The Loto Taumafai school has 105 registered students and remains under the Society, governed by a Board of Directors who give their time voluntarily to the role. It’s long serving Chief Executive Officer, Letaa Dan Devoe, had retired and moved to New Zealand before the end of last year.
Samoa Global News was able to speak with Loto Taumafai Chairman, Tagaloasa Uili Matafeo, who said the school principal had contacted him about the teachers strike on Wednesday morning.
Tagaloasa said the organisation was awaiting another tranche of funding and the teachers were being paid 50% of their wages, with the remaining 50% to be paid when funds are received.
The Board Chair said he has asked the Principal to call an urgent meeting with all teachers, expected to be held today, in efforts to mediate and resolve the issues for the benefit of the students who are ultimately affected.
Teachers who spoke to SGN on condition of anonymity said they were not receiving 50% wages, and they have filed a grievance complaint with the Ministry of Labour.
“We feel sorry for our students, but we also need money for our children and families. Once we clarify the issues with our pay and receive our unpaid wages, then we can return to continue our service.”
“E tele le alofa i nai fanau, peitai, matou te manaomia foi se tupe mo le tausiga o matou fanau ma aiga. Sei faamanino le vala lea ma toe maua uma matou totogi ona toe faaauau lea o le matou auaunaga.”