American Samoa tuna canneries spur guest worker law
Del Monte Food Inc. and Chicken of the Sea are recruiting workers
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa » Expansion plans at American Samoa's two tuna canneries and hopes for the development of call centers have led the U.S. territory to allow citizens of neighboring Samoa to enter American Samoa as guest workers.
Since February, StarKist Samoa, owned by San Francisco based Del Monte Food Inc., and COS Samoa Packing, owned by San Diego-based Chicken of the Sea International have been recruiting islandwide as they expand their operations.
Cannery officials told lawmakers last week that their immediate need was 400 workers -- 200 each for StarKist and Samoa Packing.
Meki Solomona, StarKist Samoa's quality manager, said the company also needs an additional 300 workers to staff its tuna pouch production, set to begin in July.
Del Monte announced in March the expansion of operations in American Samoa, creating more than 300 new jobs with the transfer of a portion of its pouch operations to the territory from the company's plant in Ecuador.
Solomona said despite ongoing local recruiting efforts, the canneries are facing a hard time finding additional workers. They already have a combined payroll of close to 5,000 employees, about 80 percent of whom are from Samoa.
The canneries have been setting up recruiting stations at public places, such as the main government building and outside of the post office. Recruiters also traveled to villages to tell prospective employees about cannery salaries (minimum $3.26 per hour), benefits and other incentives.
But Solomona told lawmakers last week that American Samoans, specially high school graduates, look down on the labor-intensive work offered at the canneries.
Under legislation passed by the territory's Legislature this week, Samoan citizens will be able to obtain guest worker permit to live and work in American Samoa on a temporary basis.
The law also is intended to prepare the territory for the establishment of call centers expected as soon as American Samoa is connected to an undersea fiber optic cable.
Gov. Togiola T.A. Tulafono said that six companies he declined to identify are interested in setting up call centers in the territory that would make use of the cable's communications capacity. One of the companies is looking at initially operating with 200 employees for each of three shifts, seven days a week, with the possibility of expanding operations to 2,000 people, he said.
The U.S. Interior Department's Office of Insular Affairs budget for fiscal year 2008 includes $3 million for fiber optic cable development in American Samoa. Tulafono said last month that he had asked the department to set aside an another $3 million over the next five years for the project.
American Samoa is located about 2,300 miles south of Hawaii.
Tulafono initially wanted workers from other areas of the Pacific to be included in the program.
But lawmakers limited the measure to only "citizens of the independent state of Samoa, who are of Samoan ancestry" to work at American Samoa's two canneries and planned call centers.
Senate President Lolo M. Moliga said Samoa can be used as a starting point for recruitment, since most cannery workers are now from the indep- endent nation.
"Tonga and Tokelau can be added later, if there is still a need," Moliga said Thursday. "Our most critical need at this point is additional workers for the two canneries, especially production expansion at StarKist Samoa."