2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Samoa
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||11 March 2010|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Samoa, 11 March 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b9e52c4c.html [accessed 26 November 2015]|
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2010
Samoa is a constitutional parliamentary democracy that incorporates traditional practices into its governmental system. Its population was approximately 188,000. Executive authority is vested in Head of State Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, elected by parliament in 2007. The unicameral parliament, elected by universal suffrage, is composed primarily of the heads of extended families (matai). The most recent parliamentary elections, held in 2006, were marred by charges of bribery. All 10 by-elections subsequently ordered by the Supreme Court were concluded by 2007 and considered generally free and fair. The ruling Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP) maintained its majority and continued to be the only officially recognized party in parliament. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Some problems remained, however, including poor prison conditions, local limitations on religious freedom, domestic violence, sexual abuse of children, and discrimination against women and non-matai.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices, and the government generally observed these prohibitions in practice. However, there were some allegations of police abuses.
In September a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported two separate complaints of police abuse of persons in police custody. The first complainant alleged that five police officers assaulted him, resulting in the loss of several teeth, after he was arrested for throwing stones while intoxicated and damaging nearby homes and road signs. The second individual alleged police beat him after stopping his vehicle at a roadblock, resulting in a fractured eye socket and broken arm. According to the NGO, the complainant's car was detained because the passengers were laughing loudly. When the complainant tried to explain that they were not laughing at the police, officers dragged him from the vehicle and beat him. The Ministry of Police's Professional Standards Unit was investigating both cases at year's end.
Also in September, an associate government minister was accused of inciting to kill a member of his village. He allegedly shot at the victim when the victim refused to leave after village authorities ordered him banished from the village. In December the minister pled not guilty; the case was expected to resume in 2010.
In March a senior police officer was charged with five counts of indecent assault and one count of sodomy for allegedly forcing a juvenile at the Oloamanu Juvenile Center into an unwanted sexual relationship in 2007. In June the officer pled not guilty to all charges. The trial was pending at year's end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained poor, but there were some facility improvements during the year.
Some prison facilities were nearly a century old. The Tafaigata men's prison had 24 cells of various sizes, including eight large concrete cells approximately 30 feet by 30 feet in size that each held 20 to 25 inmates.
Only basic provisions were made with respect to food, water, and sanitation. Cell lighting and ventilation remained poor; lights were turned on only from dusk until nine in the evening. Some but not all individual cells had toilet facilities. The separate Tafaigata women's prison had five cells (approximately 15 feet by nine feet) that held four to six inmates per cell. Bathroom facilities were in separate rooms. Physical conditions, including ventilation and sanitation, generally were better in the women's prison than in the men's prison.
Some juveniles were held with adults. Construction work at the Oloamanu Juvenile Center was completed by year's end, and the facility held a limited number of juveniles. Physical conditions at the juvenile center were generally better than those for adults, but there were unconfirmed reports of problems with food, clothing, and the water supply.
Although some renovation work was undertaken during the year, no new prison cells were constructed to accommodate an increased prison population. Although exact numbers were not available, at year's end both the men's and women's prisons had more inmates than they were originally designed to hold. At year's end there were approximately 300 inmates at the Tafaigata men's and women's prisons, the Oloamanu Juvenile Center, and Vaiaata Prison combined, most of whom were incarcerated in the Tafaigata facilities.
In May a controversial prisoner weekend parole program was suspended following an incident in March in which a prisoner on weekend parole hijacked, beat, and stole money from a taxi driver. By year's end the program had resumed, but only once a month and excluding those sentenced for theft, burglary, and other serious crimes.
In May, 42 prisoners armed with machetes escaped from the Tafaigata prison, hijacked a bus, and tried to drive it to the government headquarters building to express their complaints about prison conditions, including poor living conditions and food quality. The prisoners were captured an hour later when police shot at the bus's tires. In August some of the prisoners pled guilty to charges that included escaping from police custody and possession of a deadly weapon. The trial for those who pled not guilty continued at year's end.
The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers; however, there were no known requests during the year. The government permitted family members and church representatives to visit prisons every two weeks.
During the year the government made some improvements to the men's prison facilities. These included erection of makeshift bathroom partitions approximately six to nine feet high for greater privacy, installation of vinyl flooring over the concrete floors, and painting of exterior and interior walls. In addition, the prison chapel and community hall were renovated using proceeds from sales of music recorded by the prison choir.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The country has a small national police force. Enforcement of rules and security within individual villages is vested in the fono (Council of Matai).
A commissioner for police and prisons administration is appointed to a three-year term and reports to the minister of police. Corruption and impunity were not significant problems among the police, although there were credible reports of minor instances of bribery, such as bribes to avoid traffic citations. A lack of resources limited police effectiveness.
In late January a special commission of inquiry recommended to the attorney general that criminal charges be brought against the then police commissioner and another senior police officer for smuggling three firearms on board the police patrol boat in 2008. However, when the report was submitted and the officers were called before the cabinet, no criminal charges were brought. In February the police commissioner was censured and the second officer was demoted. The commissioner's contract ended during the year, and he was not reappointed.
In March the trial resumed in the 2007 case of an assistant police commissioner accused of indecent assault against two female police officers. The trial, which was delayed due to court backlogs and maternity leave of one of the female officers in the case, continued at year's end.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
The Supreme Court issues arrest warrants based on sufficient evidence. The law provides for the right to a prompt judicial determination regarding the legality of detention, and the authorities generally respected this right in practice. Detainees were informed within 24 hours of the charges against them, or they were released. There was a functioning system of bail. Detainees were allowed prompt access to family members and a lawyer of their choice. If the detainee was indigent, the government provided a lawyer.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The judiciary consists of the District Court, the Lands and Titles Court, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal, the highest court, has appellate jurisdiction only and can review the rulings of any other court. It is composed of a panel of retired New Zealand judges and sits once a year for several weeks.
Due to staff shortages, some Supreme Court and District Court judges faced a backlog of pending cases. Of particular concern were postponements of rulings on constitutional cases, some of which dated back years.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. A trial judge examines evidence and determines if there are grounds to proceed. Defendants have the presumption of innocence. Trials are public, and juries are used. Defendants have the right to be present and to timely consultation with an attorney, at public expense if required. Defendants may confront witnesses and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence, and defendants have the right to appeal a verdict. The law extends these rights to all citizens.
Many civil and criminal matters were handled by village fono, which varied considerably in their decision-making styles and the number of matai involved in the decisions. The Village Fono Act recognizes the decisions of the fono and provides for limited appeal to the Lands and Titles Court and the Supreme Court. The nature and severity of the dispute determine which court receives an appeal. A further appeal may be made to the Court of Appeal if necessary. According to a 2000 Supreme Court ruling, fono may not infringe upon villagers' freedom of religion, speech, assembly, or association.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, including access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The laws prohibit such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. However, there is little or no privacy in villages, where there can be substantial societal pressure on residents to grant village officials access without a warrant.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
Individuals generally could criticize government officials publicly or privately without reprisal. However, in May the Supreme Court found opposition member of parliament (MP) Asiata Sale'imoa Vaai guilty of contempt of court after a newspaper published a letter he wrote to the editor accusing the chief justice of bias in favor of the governing party. Although Asiata appealed, the original ruling was upheld; however, no prison sentence or fine was imposed on Asiata.
The independent media were generally active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law stipulates imprisonment for any journalist who, despite a court order, refuses to reveal a confidential source upon request from a member of the public. However, there has been no court case invoking this law.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. Although for financial reasons private ownership of computers was relatively uncommon, access to the Internet through Internet cafes was generally available and widely used in urban areas. Internet access was limited to nonexistent in rural areas. The International Telecommunication Union reported that approximately 5 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet in 2008.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom or cultural events. In April, however, the Censorship Board banned the film Milk due to its homosexual scenes (see section 6), and in May banned the film Angels and Demons to "avoid any religious discrimination by other denominations and faiths against the Catholic Church." Other films also reportedly banned by the board included The Butcher, Van Wilder, Unborn, and The Cell 2.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. The constitution acknowledges an "independent state based on Christian principles and Samoan custom and traditions"; however, there is no official or state denomination. The law grants each person the right to change religion or belief and to worship or teach religion alone or with others, but in practice the matai often choose the religious denomination of their extended family.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no significant reports of societal religious discrimination. There was no organized Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. However, traditional law governs villages, and village fono regularly banned citizens from village activities or banished citizens from the village for failing to conform to village laws or obey fono rulings. Cases of village banishment were rarely made public. Of those cases that became known during the year, reasons for banishment included murder, rape, adultery, and unauthorized claims to land and matai title. In some cases civil courts have overruled banishment orders. Some banished persons were accepted back into the village after performing a traditional apology ceremony called "ifoga."
The government was willing to cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, but the need did not arise during the year.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The country is a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The law provides for the granting of refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government received no requests during the year for refugee status, asylum, or protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections based on universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
The most recent elections, held in 2006, were marred by charges of bribery. As a result of election challenges filed by losing candidates, the Supreme Court ordered 10 by-elections. All the mandated by-elections were conducted and generally considered free and fair.
The law does not prohibit the formation of opposition parties, but there were no officially recognized opposition parties. In June the speaker of the house ordered by-elections for the seats of nine independent MPs who claimed membership in the Tautua Samoa Party (TSP). The speaker asserted, as justification for this action, that the Samoa Electoral Act prohibited formation of any new party in parliament if it was not registered before the previous general election (in this case, in 2006). The TSP sought a legal injunction against the speaker's decision, and also filed a lawsuit against the speaker seeking five million dollars in damages. In July the chief justice ruled against the speaker's interpretation of the act's wording in this regard and in favor of the TSP. However, in October parliament passed amendments to the Electoral Act providing that MPs must vacate their parliamentary seats if they become members of a political party or organization that was not registered at the time of the previous general election, or if they become members of a party or organization of which they were not members when they took their oath of allegiance as MPs. In December the TSP suspended indefinitely, but did not formally withdraw, its suit.
While the constitution gives all citizens above age 21 the right to vote and run for office, by social custom candidates for 47 of the 49 seats in parliament are drawn from the approximately 30,000 matai. Matai are selected by family agreement; there is no age qualification. Although both men and women are permitted to become matai, only 8 percent were women. Matai controlled local government through the village fono, which were open to them alone.
There were four women in the 49-member parliament, three of whom served in the 13-member cabinet. In addition, one woman served as head of a constitutional office, two women as chief executive officers of government ministries, and six women as general managers of government corporations.
The political rights of citizens who are not of ethnic Samoan heritage are addressed by the reservation of two parliamentary seats for at-large MPs, known as "individual voters" seats. One at-large cabinet minister and MP was of mixed European-Samoan heritage. Citizens of mixed European-Samoan or Chinese-Samoan heritage were well represented in the civil service.
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. Penalties ranged from several months to several years of imprisonment if convicted. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.
Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws; however, such disclosure was encouraged by codes of ethics applicable to boards of directors of government-owned corporations. The law provides for an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government agencies, officials, or employees, including allegations of corruption. The ombudsman may require the government to provide information relating to a complaint.
In June an account officer in the Ministry of Police and two account officers in the Ministry of Finance pled not guilty to a 2008 charge of embezzling 350,000 (approximately $142,275) in police funds. The case subsequently was adjourned and was expected to resume in February 2010. In July a former principal accountant at the Ministry of Revenue-Customs was convicted of embezzling more than 4,400 tala (approximately $1,800) and ordered to repay the embezzled funds plus court fees.
Under the law government information is subject to disclosure in civil proceedings involving the government, unless the information is considered privileged or its disclosure would harm the public interest. In the case of other requests, requesters had to go through an often-slow bureaucratic process, and consequently information was not always obtainable in a timely manner.
Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.
The government cooperated with international governmental organizations and permitted visits by UN representatives and other organizations. Representatives of various UN agencies visited the country during the year, including visits related to tsunami disaster relief efforts.
The Office of the Ombudsman was generally considered effective and operated free from government or political party interference; however, the government did not always adopt its recommendations.
Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally respected these provisions in practice. However, politics and culture reflected a heritage of matai privilege and power, and members of certain families of high traditional status had some advantages.
The constitution prohibits abuse of women, but common societal attitudes tolerated their physical abuse within the home, and such abuse was common.
Rape is illegal, but there is no legal provision against spousal rape. Many cases of rape went unreported because common societal attitudes discouraged such reporting. In recent years, however, authorities noted a rise in the number of reported cases of rape. This appeared to be a result of efforts by government ministries and local NGOs to increase awareness of the problem and the need to report rape cases to police. Rape cases that reached the courts were treated seriously, and the conviction rate was generally high. The penalties for rape ranged from two years' to life imprisonment, but a life sentence has never been imposed. In July a former cabinet minister pled not guilty to 22 charges, including attempted rape, indecent assault, and unlawful intimidation, brought on the basis of complaints from former employees in his household. His trial had not yet begun at year's end.
Domestic abuses typically went unreported due to social pressure and fear of reprisal. Village fono typically punished domestic violence offenders, but only if the abuse was considered extreme (i.e., visible signs of physical abuse). Village religious leaders also were permitted to intervene in domestic disputes. When police received complaints from abused women, the government punished the offender, including by imprisonment. Domestic violence is charged as common criminal assault, with penalties ranging from several months to one year in prison. The government did not keep statistics on domestic abuse cases specifically but acknowledged the problem to be one of considerable concern. A senior judge pled not guilty to a charge of assault brought by his wife in April; however, the case was dismissed in December when the plaintiff failed to appear at a court hearing.
The Ministry of Police has a 10-person Domestic Violence Unit, which received reports of domestic abuse and worked in collaboration with NGOs that combated domestic abuse. NGO services for abused women included confidential hot lines, in-person counseling, victim support, and shelters.
In June the country hosted a congress of women's ministries of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, with particular focus on the problem of domestic violence. According to press reports, hundreds of persons participated in a "peace march" in Apia prior to the conference to call for action against abuse of women and children.
Prostitution is illegal; it existed but was not widespread. The law prohibits sexual harassment; it was not widespread but was believed to be underreported.
Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children without discrimination, coercion, or violence. The National Health Service, private hospitals, and general practitioners, as well as various health care centers, provided information and access to contraception and essential obstetric and postpartum care. Women and men had equal access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Women have equal rights under the constitution and statutory law, and the traditional subordinate role of women was changing, albeit slowly, particularly in the more conservative parts of society. The Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development oversees and helps secure the rights of women. To integrate women into the economic mainstream, the government sponsored numerous programs, including literacy programs and training programs for those who did not complete high school.
A provision of labor law prohibits employment of women between midnight and 6:00 a.m. unless special permission has been granted by the commissioner of labor. This regulation was generally observed. Permission for night work was generally granted upon application.
Citizenship is derived by birth in the country if at least one parent is a citizen; the government may also grant citizenship by birth to a child born in the country if the child would otherwise be stateless. Citizenship also is derived by birth abroad to a citizen parent who either was born in Samoa or resided there at least three years.
The government made a strong commitment to the welfare of children through the implementation of various youth programs by the Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development in collaboration with the Ministries of Education and Health. Education is compulsory through age 14; however, the government did not enforce this law. Public education was not free; students were required to pay some school fees.
Law and tradition prohibit severe abuse of children, but both tolerate corporal punishment. Although there were no official statistics available, press reports indicated a rise in reported cases of child abuse, especially incest and indecent assault cases, which appeared to be due to citizens' increased awareness of the need to report physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children. The government aggressively prosecuted such cases. For example, in March a 36-year-old father was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for incest and carnal knowledge for raping his 15-year-old daughter. In May a church minister, earlier acquitted of a rape charge, was found guilty of indecent assault and sentenced to one year in prison, and a 44-year-old man was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to raping his daughter. However, there remained instances in which cultural factors inhibited reporting of child sexual abuse to police. In August the family of a 14-year-old victim of a homosexual rape reportedly accepted an apology and material compensation in lieu of prosecution, due to fear of societal stigma.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16; the maximum penalty for violators is seven years' imprisonment. There is no specific criminal provision regarding child pornography; however, child pornography cases can be prosecuted under a provision of law that prohibits distribution or exhibition of indecent matter. The maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment.
The Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration and the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with NGOs, carried out educational activities to address domestic violence and inappropriate behavior between adults and children and to promote human rights awareness.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, through, or within the country.
There are laws against kidnapping that could be used to prosecute trafficking-related activities. The law provides for a penalty of up to 10 years in prison for kidnapping any person with the intent to transport, imprison, or hold for service. Abducting or receiving a child under age 16 is punishable by up to seven years' imprisonment. A transnational crimes unit monitors crimes related to trafficking in persons.
Persons with Disabilities
There is no law pertaining specifically to the status of persons with disabilities or regarding accessibility for them. Tradition dictates that families care for persons with disabilities, and this custom was observed widely in practice. There were no reports of discrimination against persons with disabilities in the areas of employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. Many public buildings were old, and only a few were accessible to persons with disabilities. Most new buildings provided better access, including ramps and elevators in most multistory buildings.
The Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development has responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sodomy and "indecency between males" are illegal, with maximum penalties of seven and five years' imprisonment, respectively. However, these provisions were not actively enforced with regard to consensual homosexual acts between adults. There were no reports of societal violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity; however, there were isolated cases of discrimination. In April the government Censorship Board rejected the screening of the film Milk, about the life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, on the basis that the film had "inappropriate scenes" that contradicted the country's Christian beliefs. In contrast, the board allowed the screening of the film Lesbian Vampire Killers with the explanation that the film was not necessarily about lesbians, but about the legend of female vampires.
The Samoa Fa'afafine Association, a local transgender organization, operated freely, without government interference; the prime minister was the patron of the association.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were no reports of societal violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers legally have unrestricted rights to establish and join organizations of their own choosing. There were no practical limitations to union membership, and approximately 20 percent of the private sector workforce was unionized. The Public Service Association (PSA) functioned as a union for all government workers, who comprised approximately 8,000 of the approximately 25,000 workers in the formal economy. Unions generally conducted their activities free from government interference.
The Supreme Court has upheld the right of government workers to strike, subject to certain restrictions imposed principally for reasons of public safety, and workers have exercised this right.
Workers in the private sector have the right to strike, but there were no private-sector strikes during the year.
In September bus owners stopped service to protest the government's refusal to pay part of the cost of retrofitting their buses following a government-ordered change from driving on the right-hand side of the road to the left-hand side. The action ended after the government offered owners a three-week extension to make the changes and assistance in negotiating extensions on loan repayments to commercial banks to finance the changes. However, the government rejected the Samoa Bus Association's request for direct financial assistance and additional time to comply.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides workers with the right to organize and bargain collectively, and workers exercised this right in practice. The PSA engages in collective bargaining on behalf of government workers, including bargaining on wages. Arbitration and mediation procedures are in place to resolve labor disputes, although such disputes rarely arose.
There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the sole export processing zone.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but matai frequently called upon persons, including minors, to work for their villages. Most persons did so willingly; however, the matai may compel those who do not.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
It is illegal to employ children under the age of 15 except in "safe and light work." The Ministry of Labor refers complaints of illegal child labor to the attorney general for enforcement; however, no cases were prosecuted during the year. The law does not apply to service rendered to family members or the matai, some of whom required children to work for the village, primarily on village farms. The extent of this practice varied by village, but it generally did not significantly disrupt children's education.
Children frequently were seen vending goods and food on Apia street corners. The government has not made a definitive determination as to whether this practice violates the country's labor laws, which cover only persons who have a place of employment. Although the practice may constitute a violation of the law, local officials mostly tolerated it.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
An advisory commission to the minister of labor makes recommendations on minimum wage increases every five years, based on national surveys held every three years. There were two minimum wages, last increased in 2005: two tala (approximately $0.80) per hour for the private sector, and 2.40 tala (approximately $.98) for the public sector. Neither provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family unless supplemented by other activities, such as subsistence farming and fishing. Wages in the private sector are determined by competitive demand for the required skills but should not be less than the minimum private-sector wage.
The provisions of the Labor Act cover only the private sector; a separate law, the Public Service Act, covers public-sector workers. Labor laws stipulate a standard work week of no more than 40 hours, or eight hours per day (excluding meal times). For the private sector, overtime pay is specified at time and a half, with double time for work on Sundays and public holidays and triple time for overtime on such days. For the public sector, there is no paid overtime, but compensatory time off is given for overtime work.
The Occupational Safety Hazard Act establishes certain rudimentary safety and health standards for workplaces, which the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Labor is responsible for enforcing. The law also covers persons who are not workers but who are lawfully on the premises or within the workplace during work hours. However, independent observers reported that safety laws were not enforced strictly, except when accidents highlighted noncompliance. Work accidents were investigated when reports were received. Many agricultural workers, among others, were inadequately protected from pesticides and other dangers to health. Government education and awareness programs addressed these concerns by providing appropriate training and equipment to agricultural workers. Safety laws do not apply to agricultural service rendered to the matai.
While the law does not address specifically the right of workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, the commissioner of labor investigates such cases, without jeopardy to continued employment. The government investigated several cases during the year. Government employees are covered under different and more stringent regulations, which were enforced adequately by the Public Service Commission.