US Department Of Labor Pushes Compliance In Am. Samoa

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Official says agency makes resources available to employers, workers

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 20, 2016) – A US Department of Labor official has emphasized that the federal agency’s continued presence here is meant to ensure that "resources" are available to the local community — both employer and employee — as well to help employers maintain compliance with federal labor law.

USDOL Wage and Hour (WHD) director of the Honolulu district office, Terrance Trotter says that one of the reasons for his visit to the territory last week was "to try and maintain continuity with the local community ... making sure our resources are available to them."

"We just want, again, to reaffirm our presence here, and have both employer and employee understand that we are here as a resource. We also go out and visit employers in the private sector as well as the government to address [various] issues, [and] hopefully fix those issues," he said and noted that WHD does collect back wages owed to workers by their employers.

However, "we determine our long term success by developing an understanding of the law, so there won’ t be violations in the future," Trotter said in a Samoa News interview last Thursday. "So that’ s really important for us — that we’re not seen just as a collection agency [for back wages]. We have strategic meetings with employers to change behavior so they will be more compliant going forward."

Samoa News asked if WHD has seen changes with employers who were previously fined by USDOL for violating labor laws, and asked if WHD does revisit these employers to ensure they continue to be in compliance.

"We do revisit. We’ve seen progress. But we’ve also seen the need for improvement with

the largest employer — and that will be the American Samoa Government," he said. "So we’re continuing to work with them."

He shared that there are certain ASG departments — such as the Department of Public Safety — where WHD is trying to address their compliance issues. The goal is to make sure that "going forward the commitment to timely payments for all overtime worked" by employees is given to them.

"So we’re trying to address that issue with them — Public Safety — as to how to quantify it and actually have it paid," he said, adding that "we’ve definitely seen progress" where they’ve gone into a particular department, and WHD realized the problems that needed to be resolved.

"I think it’s a little bit more difficult, when you’re dealing with agencies, with what we call ‘unplanned overtime’," he said. For example, at Public Safety Department, where the kind of work they do can’t always be contemplated in advance, there may be occasions for overtime that were not originally budgeted.

"But for whatever the reasons, somebody who works should be paid and should be

paid in a timely manner. So we’re making our commitment ...to work with their department heads to address this issue," he said, referring to DPS.

Local lawmakers have also voiced concern over reports from police officers that they are not being paid their overtime.

As for the private sector, "we do the same thing" and the local WHD number is available to the community 254-4585. "Normally, while we’re here, we get a flurry of activity, we have people calling us," Trotter said.

However, Trotter pointed out that not all calls coming to the local WHD number relates to USDOL ’ s work, "but we do help them in the areas within our jurisdiction," he said.

For example, a mother exiting the workforce to have a baby may have questions. The mother may want to know — if she exits the workforce, does that mean she is permanently going to lose her job?

"We have something called the Family Medical Leave Act, that says, ‘for those employers with sufficient size, and those employees who have worked for at least one year, that if you exit the work place to have a child you’re guaranteed to reenter with the same employer, at the same pay, same job, same working conditions for example, the same shift," he explained.

Trotter said ASG, the territory’s largest employer on island, and other large private sector employers are subject to this federal act. Additionally, WHD continues to conduct education outreach programs so both employers and employees are aware of the federal laws. (more info on: www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/)

Meanwhile, WDH investigator Dionesis Tamondong is the current interim investigator on island after the last investigator assigned to Pago Pago completed her four-month assignment.

Trotter says another investigator will be assigned to American Samoa for four-months at the end of May this year.

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