‘People are struggling’

BETWEEN 2006 and 2017, Fiji’s cost of living has cumulatively increased by 49.2 per cent.

This is reflected by the annual average inflation rates since 2006.

Additionally, between 2012 and 2017 the cost of food has cumulatively increased by 18.3 per cent, and during the same period the cost of health has increased by 18.4 per cent.

The vast majority of our ordinary people are struggling to meet the daily needs of life.

Government policies

The Government conveniently lays the blame on high prices overseas driven by global demand.

A classic example is the statement by the Prime Minister defending the high cost of butter, saying consumption overseas is booming due to the realisation of butter’s health benefits!

We will expose this hollow claim soon and show why the FijiFirst Government and its policies protect a certain local company.

Furthermore, the Government reneged on its 2014 election promise of keeping seven basic food items VAT free by re-imposing 9 per cent VAT on them from January 1, 2016.

This betrayal has not gone unnoticed by the people because the bleeding of their wallets is evidence enough! The imposed VAT on prescription medication by this Government adds insult to injury.

What will the NFP do

We have the solutions to ensure that the cost of living is permanently reduced.

We will:

Make 15 basic food items VAT free. This includes the seven items previously zero-rated, as well as butter and lamb.

Reduce duty on food items so that people can save more. It is criminal and cruel that families are struggling to put three nutritious meals on the table daily.

Minimum wage a farce

The national minimum wage of $2.68 an hour is a farce and it is ridiculous for Government to claim it is benefiting some 150,000 ordinary and unskilled workers.

The truth is many skilled workers are also being paid the minimum rate.

A worker in the informal sector will earn a net pay of $110.95 per 45-hour week after Fiji National Provident Fund deductions of 8 per cent.

In contrast, a Cabinet Minister on a gross salary of $185,000 is now earning a net annual salary of $139,600 from August 1st 2017.

This is an increase of $6400 per annum.

Weekly, a worker on minimum wage will earn $110.95, while a Cabinet Minister earns $2684.62 net.

Therefore, a Cabinet Minister’s salary has increased more than what a worker on the new rate of $2.68 an hour will earn.

How does this Government expect someone earning $110.95 per week to support his or her family, in the face of staggering food prices?

If that is not enough, the Government is fearmongering by suggesting that businesses will shut down, resulting in job losses.

This is a blatant lie. The Government is also suggesting that housekeepers will also earn $5 an hour — and why shouldn’t they?

They keep homes ticking while families are out, and they too deserve fairness and decency. It is possible in a phased approach that incentivises this type of fair play. We know how to make it happen.

Fiji needs a living wage

We will implement a minimum living wage of $5 an hour for unskilled workers so that someone who works for 40 hours can earn $200 in gross wages.

After FNPF deduction of 8 per cent, a worker will earn $184 net per week. This is $73.05 more than what a worker currently receives.

A living wage, supplemented by VAT free 15 basic food items, further supplemented by duty reductions on some food items that have become a luxury for our poor, are necessary.

Only then will our ordinary workers be able to lead decent and meaningful lives. If we can grow our middle class, we can expect the economy to also show tangible results.