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Financial Literacy Training Comes First in the Solomon Islands


Training provided by Soltuna helped its workers increase and better manage their earnings. © Soltuna

Management at Soltuna, a tuna processor in Solomon Islands, had a problem. It is the only tuna processing company and one of the biggest private employers in this country of more than 1,000 islands in the South Pacific. Still, workers were absent from almost a third of their shifts, most often on Mondays and Fridays and without permission.

Combined with high energy costs, high shipping costs, and poor infrastructure, this made it difficult for the company to compete with tuna processors in Thailand and Philippines.

Soltuna coped by overstaffing shifts to compensate for no-shows. This carried high fixed costs—over $160,000 extra annually, the company estimated. Just bringing Monday and Friday absenteeism down to the level of a typical Wednesday could generate over $1.5 million more in annual revenue from higher production, according to its estimates.

Soltuna wanted to understand what was driving absenteeism, particularly why it persisted despite significant financial incentives for regular attendance, and turned to IFC for help. An analysis found that 20 percent of workers accounted for half of all absences, and they were often young, married, local women. Focus groups indicated that absenteeism was largely driven by care responsibilities of younger women with children and those living among large extended families. Poor health, inadequate water supply and sanitation, lack of childcare, and high rates of gender-based violence—affecting two-thirds of women in the Solomon Islands—were all contributing to missed work.

Workers also said they sometimes were absent because they were strapped for cash and needed to sell in the market to survive until the next paycheck. This was puzzling because workers with regular attendance received significant bonuses. To address this problem, Soltuna worked with IFC to introduce training in managing money and household budgets as well as understanding their payslips and the company’s incentive program.

 

Understanding Why Women Miss Work

The training had a profound impact on the lives of Soltuna’s workers, particularly the women. Beverly Micha lived with her husband, her two children and four other family members in a settlement near her job at the tuna-processing plant. Her husband was initially dismissive when she decided to participate in the financial literacy training, crumpling up the first household budget she drafted. But after Micha saved enough to buy a bale of second-hand clothing and sell it at a profit equivalent to about $450, he paid attention. The couple are now working together to save for a family house in their home village.

Soltuna also worked with local banks to help women establish savings accounts to increase their control over their earnings. The training helped women better understand their potential for overtime pay and attendance bonuses.

Results have been encouraging. After the training, the share of workers who reported they always had money left the day before payday rose from 14 percent to more than 30 percent. Absenteeism among trainee participants fell from an average of 19 percent to 13 percent. Soltuna is now offering this training to all of its workers.

It is also addressing other obstacles faced by women. The Solomon Islands has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, and Soltuna is supporting development of a safe house in the community and looking at other ways of supporting victims. It is developing worker health-care initiatives and considering options for supporting access to childcare.

For more information on how Soltuna is addressing gender issues, read the case study.

To learn more about IFC’s work to support gender equality, visit www.ifc.org/gender.

Published in May 2017