Samoa
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SPECIAL REPORT: Seasonal Worker Promised Work after his Records Went Missing

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – 17 NOVEMBER 2022:  A Samoan worker from Safata who served three years in the Regional Seasonal Employment (RSE) in New Zealand, has been promised a place in the scheme after he complained to the media that his bid for a further term was declined after his records “went missing” from the system.

Luao Senetenari worked under the RSE scheme from 2019 to 2021 in New Zealand. When he applied with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour for a fourth term in September this year, he was told that he has no RSE records which means he was never recruited under the scheme.

The recruitment officer at MCIL showed him a blank entry in the office’s computer indicating that Luao Senetenari never existed in the system.

Disappointed and angry, Luao unsuccessfully sought help from various Government sectors before he contacted Talamua about his case.
“I was told and then shown that I have no existing records to prove that I was recruited under the RSE scheme,” said Luao.

As a result of Luao’s and Talamua’s enquiries, a RSE recruitment officer with MCIL called Luao into the office “to sort out the matter.”

“They were not happy that I approached the media,” Luao said after the meeting.

They then showed Luao that his records from 2019 to 2021 were still safe within the system.

Luao asked why he was told differently before and one of the RSE officers, Gaulua Sefulutasi said his records only “popped up” in the system after he left the office in October this year.

Luao said he went back after that meeting and he was again told that he doesn’t have any records in the system and the officer referred him to see another officer “and not to approach her again.”

At the end of their discussion, Luao said the second recruitment officer offered to find employment for him abroad, as soon as possible.

Background to the missing records
Luao told Talamua, that having worked in New Zealand under the scheme for three years, he applied for work with the Sealord Company in New Zealand around September 2022. He also went about preparing necessary documents required for the trip if successful.

Then he went to see the RSE recruitment officers at MCIL, only to be told that he does not exist under the scheme.

“I could not believe what I was told.”

Disappointed, he spoke to an uncle who in turn went and saw the Minister of MCIL, Leatinu’u Wayne Sooialo who contacted the RSE section for an explanation and was told the same thing, “no records.”

On 10 October 2022, Luao was informed by the Sealord Company Human Resource Manager, Erica Hemelryk that his application had been declined and he wanted to know why.

Erica responded to Luao via email on 10 October 2022.

“I am unable to go into specifics, unfortunately,” said Erica.

RSE workers airport prayer
RSE workers airport prayer

A group of RSE workers in prayer at Faleolo Airport before departing for work overseas.

Employment with Mr. Apple & DMS New Zealand
Luao was one of the workers recruited in the group organized by the Safata No.1. Member of Parliament and worked under the scheme for three years for Mr. Apple and the DMS Progrowers Ltd in New Zealand from 2019 to 2021.

“I returned home after my first year with Mr. Apple then re-applied in 2020 and I got lucky,” said Luao.

He and others were supposed to return home at the end of their 2020 contracts, but because of the pandemic and international borders lockdown, they were transferred to work at the DMS-Progrowers Ltd before returning home in 2021.

In an effort to prove the RSE officers wrong, Luao contacted DMS and a Certificate of Service signed by the DMS Human Resource Manager, Rachel Trimble was provided for Luao on 22 September 2022.

This letter confirms that Luao Senetenari was employed with DMS Progrowers Ltd from 3 May 2021, with a last day of employment being 11 October 2021. Luao worked at our DMS Pukepack and worked during our kiwifruit main pack season, as well as our re-pack period,” DMS confirmed.

The letter further noted that “Luao came to DMS as part of the RSE program, transferring from another RSE employer and returning to the same employer after the employment period with DMS.”

Luao is disappointed by the fact that he has always abided by his contract and has never breached any of the conditions, yet, out of the 20 people in his team who he knows some breached their contracts, he was the only one with a ‘lost’ record.

RSE Co-ordinator denies allegations
The MCIL Assistant Chief Executive Officer who heads the RSE scheme, Lemalu Nele Leilua denies Luao’s allegations.

In response to Talamua’s query, Lemalu said the claim was not true.

“The claim that MCIL has deleted his profile from the system, I have no idea where he got that information from as it is totally untrue,” said Lemalu.

Lemalu said Luao’s profile still exists in the system and she showed Talamua the profile in the system to prove it.

However, when Luao saw the profile, he shook his head and said “E fou le mea legā” – “That’s new.”

“That was the new profile they made of me when I went to see them sometime in October 2022,” said Luao.

Asked why he insisted it was a new profile? Because the profile gives Manono as his current village and Aiga ile Tai as his district.

“My old records have Safata as my village and district because I was under their MP’s group,” he explained.

Luao’s Samoa Worker Profile form shown to Talamua shows the profile form was created on 27 October 2022 and it names Manono as Luao’s place of residence.

Lemalu confirmed with Talamua that the profile they have is under the name Senetenari Luao, not Luao Senetenari.

The complainant insists he is Luao Senetenari and that is the name he was employed under the RSE scheme for three years in New Zealand before his records got ‘lost’.

A shop is destroyed by fire in 2021
After the general election in April 2021, a small family shop at Manono-uta was destroyed by fire for alleged political alliances and support.

The shop owners were Luao Senetenari and his wife. At the time of the fire, Luao’s contract with Mr. Apple had just finished and he was waiting for a seat on the repatriation flights back to Samoa.

Luao strongly believes that whoever deleted his records from the RSE system is politically connected to the shop fire incident last year.

Talamua has been told that this is not the first time RSE applicants records have gone missing or misplaced in what appears to “jump the queue” in the long list of potential workers to work under the labour mobility scheme overseas.

Meanwhile, Luao Senetenari contacted MCIL early this week to follow up any progress of his application but said he was told not to ring again as the office already has his contacts.

Luao told Talamua that he has been informed by his former employer, DMS Progrowers Ltd in New Zealand that they will have a team in Samoa to recruit more workers in early December and for him to contact the team when they are on island.