Workers’ rights

FOUR political parties preparing for the 2018 General Election believe more needs to be done to protect workers’ rights in the country.

The Social Democratic Liberal Party, National Federation Party, Fiji Labour Party and the Fiji United Freedom Party are of the view that the ruling party is not doing enough to pave a conducive and just working environment for Fijian workers.

The parties were responding to the results of a Tebbutt-Times poll that revealed 51 per cent of those surveyed said working conditions in the country had improved in the past five years.

The latest poll results also revealed that people think the Government should be involved in industrial disputes to find a resolution.

The poll asked people whether the Government should be involved when there were lockouts or strikes or continuing disputes involving workers.

About 51 per cent felt the Government should, 28 per cent thought it should not, while 21 per cent had no opinion or were undecided.

The poll, conducted in February with 1046 people from around the country, also asked the question whether the working conditions in the country had improved in the past five years.

Again, 51 per cent thought it had while 17 per cent believed conditions had worsened and 25 per cent felt there had been no change. About 6 per cent of those asked were undecided.

NFP leader Professor Biman Prasad claimed in the past 10 years, the industrial relations climate had been the worst in Fiji’s independent history.

He claimed the latest Tebbutt-Times poll showed a slight majority of those surveyed acknowledged improvement and at the same time wanted Government’s involvement in resolving disputes, which confirmed the continuation of suppression and restriction of workers’ rights and their fundamental freedoms.

“While pressure from the International Labour Organization following complaints by the local trade union movement forced Government to repeal the Essential National Industries Act in July 2015 and again streamline the Employment Relations Promulgation in February 2016, which resulted in some improvement as reflected in the poll, problems remain,” Prof Prasad claimed.

He said the best way to resolve issues of collective bargaining and industrial conflicts was through a tripartite forum involving Government, employer and employee representatives.

Social Democratic Liberal Party provisional candidate Lynda Tabuya said the first question of the Tebbutt-Times poll was incomplete in that it did not ask for specific working conditions.

She claimed Government had also failed miserably as far as workers’ rights and issues were concerned.

“It has not addressed our specific concerns about increasing the minimum wage to a decent $4/hour and removing short-term contracts of our civil servants,” Ms Tabuya said.

She said for industrial disputes such as lockouts and strikes, it was vital to have all concerned parties at the negotiating table.

Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry claimed workers were much worse off today than ever before. He said the increase in the national minimum wage from $2.32 in 2015 to $2.68 in 2017 was still well below the poverty level wage rate of $4 an hour.

“The rights of workers and trade unions have been severely restrained despite the agreement reached between Government and the Fiji Trades Union Congress in 2015. Union bashing has still not stopped,” he claimed.

He added the party intended to reverse these impositions, restore workers’ rights, reintroduce the tripartite forum to negotiate a decent national minimum wage rate and restore FNPF annuity rate to 15 per cent annually.

Fiji United Freedom Party leader Jagath Karunaratne said the mind-set of too much reliance on the Government must go away.

“In summary, what we need is a mechanism that allows workers as individuals, unions or any other groups working together to find proper solutions, not only for grievances but also for growth. We must not see different entities as rivals of each other,” Mr Karunaratne said.

“There must be cohesion, understanding and the political will in working together rather than advancing different agendas and being used as a political tool.

Unity Fiji party leader Savenaca Narube said they could not comment on the poll results because they were busy in the Northern Division.

* Questions sent to Fiji First party leader Voreqe Bainimarama and general secretary Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum two weeks ago via electronic mail (email) and reminders sent again last week remained unanswered.