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PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 9) - Governor Togiola says COS Samoa Packing has started to lay off employees, and a shipping company plans to hike freight costs, and both actions are due to the new federally mandated minimum wage hike. The first 50 cent per hour hike goes into effect July 24.

Speaking on his weekend radio program, the governor said the American Samoa Government (ASG) continues to gather information from the private sector regarding the impact of the new minimum wage.

Togiola said it has been confirmed that COS Samoa Packing has started to lay off employees and although the government has tried its best to prevent this from happening, it is a private company and there is not much ASG can do.

Despite this setback, the governor is hopeful that some resolution will surface allowing affected workers to return to their jobs.

Samoa Packing announced in May that the initial 50 cent hike will result in just over 200 workers being furloughed.

Togiola said there is hope for these laid-off Samoa Packing workers because of word he received last week from a StarKist Samoa official. The Satala-based company is seeking to recruit 200 workers, despite the difficult financial situation they face with the new minimum wage.

According to the governor, StarKist Samoa hopes to support the territory by adjusting certain expenses in order to hire the additional workers. The governor claims that the wage hike has also resulted in the hike of ocean transportation rates for a shipping company that serves American Samoa, but did not identify the firm.

While the governor has not yet received word as to the actual new container rate, he said this information is being made public so consumers will be aware of the impact on cost of goods.

He reminded listeners that this is one of the concerns he voiced at the outset of this wage hike debate: that hikes in freight/shipping costs will be passed on to consumers.

According to the governor, there is still misinformation circulating in the community about the new wage hike, adding that only those currently earning minimum wage in various industry categories will get a 50 cent per hour increase.

However, he said there are a few companies that will have to adjust their entire payroll, so that not only the minimum wage earners will get an increase, but everyone else above the minimum level.

The governor and Fono leaders continued to be criticized for not supporting the wage hike. He countered criticism by stating, "I am not against wage increases...I would even support $10 an hour, but the main question is - does our economy support such a hike? Just look at what has happened at Samoa Packing. People are laid off, and who will now provide jobs for these individuals?"

The governor did not say when the data being gathered by his office will be complete, but he wants this information presented to Congress when they review provisions of the federal minimum wage law that required a mandatory study by the U.S. Department of Labor regarding local impact of the hike.

Also to be presented to Congress is an ASG study, funded by the U.S. Department of Interior and conducted by McPhee and Associates to determine possible adverse developments of cannery operations in the future.

The team is working closely with ASG officials and the private sector to make well-focused determinations and the governor said recently that he hopes the study will be completed in September.

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