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Update: ASG workforce hours cutback starts Monday

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga announced at yesterday’s emergency cabinet meeting the reduction of working hours from 8 hours to 7 hours per working day, beginning next week Monday, Apr. 10.

The governor emphasized to directors that government offices will remain open during regular business hours from 7:30a.m to 4p.m and for directors to staggered out staff to ensure that their respective agencies remain open throughout government business hours.

According to the governor, the reduction in hours will not apply to doctors, nurses, teachers and other in-school personnel. The governor says that he regrets having to take this action, but it is necessary at this time.

“Our financial situation mandates we take these steps now in order to be able to ensure we are able to continue the effective delivery of government services to the public for the remainder of the year, while at the same time sustaining employment at its current level rather than taking paychecks away from households,” the governor said in a statement yesterday afternoon to publicly announce the reduction of hours.

According to the governor, there are “two principle difficulties” impacting the government’s cash flow:

•     Closure last December of Samoa Tuna Processors Inc., cannery operation, which resulted in a reduction in business and individual tax revenues along with a general reduction in business activities.

•     Slow down of grant funded revenue streams as a result of the change of administration in Washington D.C.

He said, “These matters, which are beyond our immediate control, require we take strong measures to counteract the impacts upon us,” adding that reduction in hours to a 70 hour biweekly pay period will continue to the end of the third quarter of FY 2017 (which ends June 30) and will be reassessed at that time.

The governor is however optimistic it can move to a 75 biweekly pay period for the fourth quarter — which starts July 1.

At yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Lolo told directors, “We appointed each of you because you were the best person for the job, now you need to accept that responsibility and do the job of managing your department to help us work through this difficult time.”

At press time, Samoa News wasn’t able to immediately confirm if the government’s semi autonomous agencies — such as LBJ Medical Center and American Samoa Power Authority — will also take part in the reduction of hours.

At last week’s usual cabinet meeting, Lolo told directors that based on financial information from Treasury and the Budget Office the government will face a $16 million deficit, if spending is not curbed. Lolo ordered that no director should travel off island paid for by the government and no overtime would be approved.

He also said that 65% to 70% of the government’s budget is funded by federal grants.

According to the governor’s FY 2017 budget submission, the total ASG workforce is 6,603 — including the semi autonomous agencies.

ASG’s biweekly payroll — not including the authorities — averages nearly $4 million, according to ASG officials’ testimonies last year in the Fono.

Preliminary FY 2016 figures for payroll gives a total of $64.61 million for the entire fiscal year 2016.

The last time hours were reduced for government workers — 6 years ago — was during the previous administration, when then Governor Togiola Tulafono implemented a reduction in work hours for all American Samoa Government (ASG) employees paid for by local revenue, hoping to save $3million. They stopped the reduction a few months later, returning to regular working hours.