Industrial relations in Fiji

Employer organisation representatives attending a Child Labour Awareness workshop. Picture: SUPPLIED

Greetings from the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation! This week we complete our last segment on FCEF’s history and the focus will be the industrial relations landscape (IR) in the 1970s and 1980s.

Fiji’s economy in the 1970s and 1980s.
According to ADB’s analysis, In the 1970s and early 1980s, Fiji was acclaimed as a model of Pacific island. There were specific sectors thriving like the sugar sector, the manufacturing industries, the mining and quarrying industry among others.

The industrial situation in Fiji
According to research, Fiji’s industrial relations were developed along the traditional British voluntarist and interventionist tradition of New Zealand and Australia. Research also stated that the development of worker organisations in Fiji started with the sugar sector. Over the years, IR in Fiji has changed dramatically since 2005, further that IR has also evolved globally. A key function of the then Fiji Employers Consultative Association (FECA) was to provide IR consultation and advisory support to Fiji’s key industries in its capacity as employer’s representative. The other key function of FECA was to represent the institution and at most times, negotiations reached a delicate situation. This article will also highlight the strikes in the respective industries and how IR has evolved in the respective industries. One will observe that certain industries like the finance, insurance, real estate and business services had more number of days strike in 1977 and also that a thriving industry was the mining and quarrying. The year 1977 and 1979 were challenging years for employers and businesses as the highest number of strike days were recorded during these two years, workers involved was at its highest and man-days lost was at its highest as well. The period January to June 1980 was also a challenging year for employers, highlighted below are some key industrial activities which took place from January to June 1980:
• A total of 51 industrial strikes took place in the country involving 2035 workers. As a result of these strikes, 5997 mandays were lost.
• The community, social and personal services sector where 29 strikes took place lost a total of 2587 man-days. The other two sectors which lost a significant number of man-days through industrial strikes were the wholesale and retail trades including hotels and restaurants sector with 1847 man-days and construction sector with 1032 man-days. The number of man-days lost in these three sectors accounted for 91 per cent of the national total.

Summary from data
From the data, there are significant factors which affected the business’s strong growth, business contraction and investment opportunities. Employers were confronted with increases in labour costs and employment, and labour turnover. Further, that globalisation, trading opportunities and the employment of skilled versus unskilled workers among other factors led to an untimely and burdensome upsurge in unemployment within sectors which were already best by a multitude of constraints.

Business constraints faced by employers in 1979-1980
The constraints are listed as follows: Labour shortage of good staff; industrial disputes; industrial disputes overseas; price controls; production costs; wage increases; cash shortage; taxation; lack of experience in local staff, slack demands; legislation; work permits, production capacity and production capacity personnel.

Tripartite forum in 1978
The then prime minister attended in his role as chairman and participant and spoke from the floor. The prime minister led the group discussions when the time came for the participants to split into three tripartite groups to discuss and deliberate the papers before them. The prime minister’s participation in this manner was greatly appreciated by all members of the forum and led to an ideal atmosphere in which to discuss contentious subjects and to the continuation of informal tripartism in Fiji.

FECA’s affi liation on national boards
A tripartite formation was set up in the economic development board and the members of this board were appointed and gazette on October 24, 1980, and were: • J.S. Thomson — Chairman • G.W.S. Barrack and E.H. Jones — representing employers • J.R. Raman and M.P. Chaudhary — representing employees • R. H. Yarrow and J. Samy — representing government • G.M. Billings and J. Cokanasiga — representing the rural sector

FECA intense conciliation role
The business environment in the 1970s to the 1980s was challenging with an upsurge in strikes and further that some strikes particularly went on for a period of three weeks. The then FECA was involved in intense conciliation with government, the union, the employer and the Employee Staff Association. FECA was involved in negotiations and made every attempt to resolve disputes which included matters such as pay increase, shift allowances, increase in overtime rate, increment for hourly-paid staff and increase in overtime rate for staff on afternoon and night shift.

FCEF today…
FCEF continues the advocacy in the tripartite system at the national, sectorial and local levels. The framework built by the then FECA visionaries continue to be upheld today and is driven by the FCEF board, the trustees and the past board members who continue to provide institutional advice and guidance to the secretariat. FCEF continues to participate actively by leading and coordinating inputs from members and lastly by committing to the FCEF vision by participating at economic reforms, stimulating industrial development and participating with the creation of favourable business climates for large corporates to MSMEs.

Victoria Yee is the executive officer for the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation. The views expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the views

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