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Some Pago workers may qualify under disaster scheme

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Nov. 30, 2009) – Chicken of the Sea (COS) Samoa Packing workers who were still employed beyond Sept. 30 and those still employed at the plant now may qualify for the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program (DUA) in Samoa.

There are three DUA registration centers on Tutuila and the one at Fagatogo Pavilion has a banner which says that "All COS Samoa Packing employees that were laid off by September 30th do not qualify for DUA."

A Samoa Packing employee who was not part of the personnel let go when the cannery officially closed down Sept. 30 called the Governor’s weekend radio program complaining that he was told by officials at one of the registration sites that he does not qualify for the DUA benefits.

The male caller explained that the main production division was let go when the company closed down but not all of the employees, including himself, whose duties and responsibilities didn’t officially end until Nov. 15.

The caller believed that he should qualify because he and other workers were still employed beyond Sept. 30, but their employment was affected by the tsunami.

The caller said he has records of his last paycheck and can provide this information to back his claim.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono said this particular issue was discussed with officials of both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor (the funding agency for the DUA program) and it’s the federal agencies belief that Samoa Packing employees do not qualify.

However, the Governor says he argued that not all employees were affected by the closure of Samoa Packing because several workers were still employed beyond Sept. 30 and there are also employees still working there now.

(Samoa Packing is maintaining a small operation in the territory for its cold storage facility.)

Togiola said if employees have records that they worked beyond Sept. 30, then they should be able to qualify for the DUA program because their jobs were not part of the Sept. 30 closure.

The Governor said he was surprised that this issue was not resolved and will discuss it soon with the Governor’s Authorized Representative, Evelyn Vaitautolu Langford, who deals with the federal government on these matters.

According to Togiola about 2,872 people have already registered for the DUA program, with 509 already filing paperwork. Only about 200 have qualified so far.

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