I’d pick up the advertising hoardings they screen-printed, and space them out so the ink could dry. I’d sweep the floor, I’d run errands. Each Friday, we’d get our week’s pay in cash, in a brown envelope.
That was below the minimum wage – but I was a 15-year-old living at home with my parents. I didn’t have to put food on the table. I didn’t have to pay the power and gas bills.
That was nearly 30 years ago.
In 2019, to see hard-working men and women paid less than the minimum wage of $7.25 is pitiful. Today, some of these workers tell of their struggle to make ends meet, and how they’re not even allowed to go home for family crises. Worst of all, this is in the tourism and hospitality sector – the sparkling face of the Cook Islands.
I still work with big printing machines, but in a good, well-paid job publishing newspapers. That’s because I had decent employers who gave me a chance to develop my skills and work my way up. We owe the same to the workers who prop up our tourism industry.