Governor further elaborates on ASG reduction of hours policy

fili@samoanews.com

Certain classes of contract employees are now added to the list of American Samoa Government workers exempted from the reduction of working hours from 8 hours to 7 hours a day or 70 hours every pay period, according to Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s Apr. 7 memo, issued three days before the Apr. 10 effective date for the reduction policy.

When announcing the reduction of hours on Apr. 5, in a cabinet meeting, and immediately thereafter, the governor exempted only doctors, nurses, teachers and other in-school personnel.

In his Apr. 7 memo, the governor elaborated further on the exempted employees, saying that in light of ASG’s “legal obligations and employees engaged in services affecting the health of our people and education of our children,” he cited the “classes of employees” exempt from the cost reduction measure:

•     Medical doctors and nurses

•     Two-year and short-term contract employees

•     Education Department employees — specifically those that are physically located at the school sites and are responsible for the in-class instruction of students

And, because of the “unique nature of their professions”, the governor says the Department of Public Safety and first responders shall meet the 10-hour reduction pay period “in the most efficient manner possible.”

Lolo also directed all agencies, authorities (referring to semi autonomous ASG entities) and departments to audit their personnel to ensure ASG is maximizing productivity; and if an entity is a recipient of an ASG subsidy, to provide documentation justifying the necessity of that subsidy.

Additionally, he limits any new temporary contract to one-year and all temporary contacts must be thoroughly reviewed before renewal.

The governor also requested to add “Reduction in Hours” clauses to all future contracts or renewals to address these types of situations.

Gov. Lolo emphasized that government hours of operation — 7:30a.m to 4p.m — is maintained and directors are responsible for adjusting schedules to meet the reduction requirements, while maintaining a sufficient staff for normal hours of operations.

The Governor’s Office along with Treasury Department, Budget Office and Human Resources Department will closely monitor this situation and after 90 days, further actions will be instituted as necessary. Lolo said.

While the memo outlines the basic approach to this reduction of hours, Lolo acknowledged that some flexibility may be needed depending on the needs of each agency. And if that is the case, he asked that directors to work with Human Resources and the Budget Office to ensure compliance with the reduction of hours policy.

“The financially adverse effects of unanticipated and unexpected economic and political events on our revenue forecasts has compelled the implementation of this financial mitigation plan requiring the reduction of working hours for all government employees,” the governor said in his memo.

“The effects of these political and economic events must be addressed and in spite of our concern of the impact this initiative may have on our economy and to improve the quality of life of our people,” Lolo said, “this administration has made a public commitment to practice prudent fiscal management.”

The local “fragile economy” has depended on the cannery and the government for many years, said Lolo, who noted that the administration has strived to find ways to maintain ASG employment numbers and operate an efficient and fiscally responsible government.

“This has been achievable in part because of strict cost containment measures that we implemented immediately after taking office” he said, noting that with the help of his cabinet, “we have been able to institute successful programs while increasing employment levels.”

“Unfortunately, ASG is facing difficult economic realities” while the tuna cannery industry has “suffered a severe blow” with the closure last year in December of Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., he said.

“As a result, ASG revenues have been reduced and become more erratic,” he said, adding further that the “new federal administration has led to delays in release of important federal dollars.”

Lolo reiterated his administration’s policy which is, “Government employment is vital to the economic health of our territory” and therefore, “as we search for new ways to diversify our economy, I have chosen a reduction of hours... instead of reduction of [work] force.”

In reducing hours, the governor said the government would be able to meet its obligations to the private sector and ensure the proper upkeep of vital government services and functions. Furthermore, this action will allow ASG employees to continue to provide for their families “while we work on improving our economic situation.”

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