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MCIL assures safety of Samoan workers in Australia despite misinformation

Staff Reporters

APIA, SAMOA – 20 APRIL 2023: The Ministry of Commerce Industry & Labour (MCIL) has offered its utmost assurance that the immediate safety, welfare and wellbeing of Samoan citizens engaged under temporary labour mobility schemes continues to be of paramount importance.

“This has always been, and remains a coordinated and highly invested multi-stakeholder effort, including the Samoan Country Liaison Officer, Samoa Head of Mission & Consulate in Australia, Government of Australia and various Australian based agencies as well as local communities,” the Ministry media statement said.

This follows social media posts that suggest a number of Samoa workers have overstayed their work permits and blamed the Samoan government and its officials in Australia.

According to MCIL, despite the “sudden devastating impacts of the COVID-19 (2019) outbreak, the opportunities were made available for these workers to return home.
However, “there were also a concerning number of Samoan seasonal workers who opted to disengage from the programme and stay with families or other contacts, thereby breaching the terms and conditions of their employment visas.”

COVID 19 Pandemic and Workers Safe Return Home
According to MCIL, as a result of the uncertainty for seasonal workers in Australia with international border closures and flight restrictions, the workers with tickets paid in 2019 and early 2020 with Virgin Airline, were advised of the airlines’ decision to keep these as credits for a certain period.

In the absence of Virgin’s international services, Qantas and Air NZ were still servicing both chartered and periodic commercial repatriation flights until borders officially reopened in August 2022.

“This was a huge undertaking coordinated by the Samoa Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Samoa Head of Mission and Consulate in Australia, with support from the Samoa Country Liaison Officer,” said MCIL.

“Despite the opportunities made available for passage home, there were also a concerning number of Samoan seasonal workers who opted to disengage from the programme and stay with families and or other contacts, thereby breaching the terms and conditions of their employment visas.”

Passports of Samoan Nationals
Pursuant to Part 8 ‘Offences and Penalties’, Section 37 ‘Other Offences’ of the Samoan Passport Act 2008: it is an offence for any person to seize and retain in their possession a Samoan travel document (passport) against the will of the document holder. This is strictly observed by all Government of Samoa officials in Australia including the Head of Mission and Consulate as well as the Country Liaison Officer.

For seasonal worker passports supplied to Country Liaison Officers by either Police or Approved Employers, work is ongoing in locating and assisting the owners. This is further complicated by workers disengaging from the programme and ceasing all contact with government officials.

Message to Seasonal Workers
MCIL is encouraging the Samoan seasonal workers in Australia “to reach out to the Consulate Office in Sydney to share any concerns you may have. In addition to this, there is also an escalation process for the program where multiple stakeholders are acknowledged as critical point of contacts ranging from Government departments to recognized community connection organizations that have been working collaboratively with Samoa Mission in Australia to deliver welfare Support for all Samoan seasonal workers.

“For workers who have disengaged and thus overstayed work visas, the process is difficult as the decision for redeployment or re-engagement will be in the hands of the authorities given visa conditions have been breached and can only lead to deportation/redeployment.

“The Samoa Government officers will provide assistance where it can given the limitations on them to intervene where workers have of their own choice, disengaged or absconded without prior notice. Such actions are violations of the law. Nevertheless, our government personnel will be available to assist where they can.

“Please contact the Consulate office in Sydney Telephone: +61(2) 9602 1967 to discuss the next steps for your returning home,” the statement concluded.