Worried expat workers in Cook Islands told: ‘We’re in this together’

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RAROTONGA (Cook Islands News/Pacnews) — Fijian and Filipino contract workers in the Cook Islands have been reassured by the Immigration Ministry that no one will be deported or removed from the country.

More than 200 Fijians gathered at the AOG Church in Takuvaine, and walked out with a feeling of hope for their daily living for the next three months.

Earlier in the day, Filipinos held a similar meeting.

The Rarotongan and its sister resorts have been in the spotlight this weekend with the announcement they will be shutting down and sending their workers home.

Principal Immigration Officer Kairangi Samuela said it was an “irresponsible” move.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, as well as Internal Affairs, will be reaching out to them to see how they can help.

However, she said, if an employer has issued a termination letter then that will be final.

Good employers will do the right thing, because otherwise they will face problems later when borders reopen and they need workers.

Samuela said that they also met with the Filipino community, explaining the same to them.

“It is not a time to send people away but to see how we can support one another,” she said. “Don’t worry about permits right now. We are all in this together.”

In responding to questions on payroll issues, Samuela said at the moment, the government is trying as much as possible for employers to keep their staff on the payroll.

Sandrina Thondoo from Internal Affairs said the ministry is still working on how to roll out the unemployment package. There are provisions to offer unemployment benefits, wage subsidies and child benefits, applying to both Cook Islands and expat workers.

Eligibility criteria will be announced this week.

In a statement, Internal Affairs has asked employers to preserve employment where possible, review other duties where staff can be used and begin preparation to access the upcoming wage subsidy.

And if employers are to terminate they must act in accordance with the two-week notice period as per the Employment Relations Act.

Employers are also asked to assist workers in the application of such benefits by advising Internal Affairs of the action they have taken so no one is left without.

For workers affected by termination, wage reductions or suspensions, they are advised to prepare the documents including their letter of termination or wage suspension, their last pay slip, ID, bank account details and Cook Islands National Superannuation Fund numbers.

The ministry will also look into employment service available for redeployment; this may mean finding other work for those who have lost their job, in areas where more workers are required.

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