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Nobody knows how to define “Living Wage” says CoC

The Chamber of Commerce board of directors says it has not yet solicited views from its members concerning the governor’s initiative to compile information regarding a “Living Wage”, which is being carried out by the Commerce Department.


Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga revealed during his address to the Fono two weeks ago, that the DOC is putting together ASG’s position to the U.S. Congress opposing continued minimum wage increases, and the centerpiece of the minimum wage justification package is the presentation of a locally developed ‘Living Wage’ based on prevailing economic conditions. (See Samoa News story Jan. 24 for more details.)


DOC director Keniseli Lafaele told Samoa News last week that a living wage “is one that meets the basic needs to maintain a decent standard of living within a community, thus is generally higher than the minimum wage.”


Samoa News asked Chamber chairman Lewis Wolman if there has been any reaction from Chamber members about the ‘Living Wage’ and with the ‘living wage’ purportedly higher than the minimum wage, what is the Chamber’s reaction?


In a statement responding to Samoa News inquiries, the Chamber board says it has not yet solicited views from its members on the ‘living wage” and the Chamber “welcomes all efforts to gather accurate information about economic conditions in American Samoa, including the cost of living.”


“Nobody knows how to define a Living Wage, but it will be a valuable exercise to try and define a Living Wage in 2014 in preparation for Congressional review of the minimum wage issue in American Samoa,” the statement says.


It also says Chamber members have a “wide range of opinions” about minimum wage, “but most of the the private sector believes the minimum wage should promote and balance” the following needs:


•            the financial ability of the tuna industry to continue to operate here.


•            the financial ability of the existing private companies to continue to operate in the territory.


•            the financial needs of workers earning at or near the minimum wage.


•            the political need of American Samoa to control its own destiny, while remaining a part of the U.S.


•            the need for a predictable future with regards to minimum wage so that existing and potential private investors can make plans for business expansion and economic development in the territory.


According to the CoC statement, many Chamber members “fear” that if the minimum wage in the territory is too high or if the future of the minimum wage “is too unpredictable, it will lead to a downsizing of the tuna industry, which will result in layoffs and cripple the economy.”


“If the minimum wage is too high, it will make it very difficult to create more jobs through economic growth,” it says.


The board also says that Chamber members “support the widely-held view that the local government and local community should have the leading role in setting the local minimum wage, and that our economy can not afford to use the same minimum wage law as applies to the rest of the United States.”


Samoa News should note this is the first official statement of the new Chamber board — which took office earlier this month — about the minimum wage, which is set by federal law to increase by 50 cents per hour on Sept. 30, 2015.