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StarKist wants ‘additional support’ to avoid layoffs

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Oct. 4, 2010) - StarKist is pleased with the delay of minimum wage increases and is hopeful that additional support for the industry will materialize soon, according to a company’s spokesperson.

President Barack Obama signed into law on Thursday federal legislation that includes provisions to delay minimum wage increases for American Samoa in 2010 and 2011.

"StarKist is pleased to learn of the delay in minimum wage increases. We are thankful for Congressman Faleomavaega’s work to level the playing field for the tuna industry in American Samoa and to once again make the island globally competitive," said company spokesperson Mary Sestric, via e-mail responding to Samoa News inquiries.

Sestric didn’t specifically address the question posed—if StarKist will suspend the second round of layoffs now that the minimum wage increases have been delayed until 2012. She did say, "We are hopeful that the additional support the industry needs to remain on island will materialize soon." (She did not identify the additional support needed.)

Starkist announced in May the layoff of up to 800 workers, and phase one of that layoff was implemented on Aug. 28, which affected 380 employees. It remains unclear when the second phase will go into effect. Sestric had told Samoa News two weeks ago that additional layoffs dependent on cost reduction initiatives are currently being evaluated; and employees and stakeholders will be given appropriate advance notice.

"Until American Samoa returns to its prior position as a globally competitive hub for the tuna industry, StarKist will continually enact cost-saving measures in American Samoa as necessary," said Sestric at the time.

StarKist is also banking on its tax exemption application with the government to assist in its operation costs. When asked during a news conference on Friday about the StarKist tax exemption application, Gov. Togiola Tulafono said it has not yet come through his office.

"We are exchanging correspondence with StarKist and I do hope that [the tax exemption] will be done very shortly," said Togiola, adding that he was advised last week that "we are close" to getting something finalized for StarKist.

The Tax Exemption Board heard last month testimony from StarKist officials on its application and have asked the company to provide additional information, such as the workforce now and in the future, a government source said.

For 2010 and 2011 minimum wage for the territory’s 18 industries will remain the same as the rates from 2009, with garment industry the lowest of minimums at US$4.18 per hour, while the shipping and transportation for maritime activities the highest at US$5.59.

Here is a complete list of the industries and the minimum wage rates:

Industry Minimum Wage:

ASG - US$4.41

Fish canning/processing - US$4.76

Petroleum marketing - US$5.35

Shipping & Transportation:

Classification A - US$5.59

Classification B - US$5.42

Classification C - US$5.38

Construction - US$5.10

Retailing, wholesaling, warehousing - US$4.60

Bottling, brewing, dairy - US$4.69

Printing - US$5.00

Publishing - US$5.13

Finance, insurance - US$5.49

Ship maintenance - US$5.01

Hotel - US$4.50

Tour & Travel - US$4.98

Private hospitals, schools - US$4.83

Garment industry - US$4.18

Miscellaneous activities - US$4.20

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