Samoa's cannery facing labor crisis; stimulus funds cause people to quit jobs

Starkist employees outside the factory in Pago Pago. Photo courtesy of Talenei

Pago-Pago -- StarKist Samoa is scrambling to fill vacancies in the factory, targeting foreign workers who are already on island due to the challenge of convincing locals to return to work.

Tuna canning is one of American Samoa’s major industries and Starkist is one of the primary job providers in the private sector.

"But our business is dealing with the employment shortage, which is impacting our ability to keep up with global demand," Michelle Faist, vice president of StarKist Co., said in an interview with Talanei News.

The Talanei said the cannery faces a decline in employee numbers at the start of every year when cannery employees, predominantly from Samoa, return from their Christmas and New Year break and also when taxes are filed and refund checks are issued.

At the start of 2021, with border closures preventing cannery workers from making their usual trip to Samoa for the holidays, StarKist had an even more challenging time maintaining workforce numbers at a steady level.

“This year has been more challenging due to additional Covid benefits. We are aware that we are not the only company or government entity in American Samoa facing attendance problems," Talalenie quoted Faist as saying.

Last year, American Samoa received $16.2 million from the U.S. Department of Labor for the pandemic unemployment assistance under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act.

The new stimulus package — the American Rescue Plan Act — extends the PUA term and the FPUC benefit of $300 beginning March 14 through the week ending Sept. 4, 2021. The PUA program applies to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and green card holders.