Union power

PRESSURE from unions has pushed for better changes in working conditions in Fiji.

That’s the view of University of the South Pacific’s economist Dr Neelesh Gounder after the result of the latest Tebbutt Times poll revealed that 51 per cent of those surveyed said working conditions in the country had improved in the past five years.

The latest Tebbutt-Times poll results also revealed 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 persons 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.

Analysing the result of the poll, Dr Gounder said there were laws brought in, in 2011 that restricted the rights of workers and workers unions, but during the past five years those laws had been changed.

He said this could reflect why 51 per cent of those surveyed said the situation was better now than it was five years ago.

“It must be noted that these laws were changed because of pressure from unions as well the involvement of International Labour Organization. However, the unions have continued to raise other issues surrounding the ability of trade unions to engage in good faith collective bargaining both in the public and the private sector,” Dr Gounder said.

“Perhaps that is why around 40 per cent believe things have grown worse and there has been no change. For instance, the right to strike action is being stifled by the refusal of the Registrar of Trade Unions to supervise the ballot as required by the law.

“The majority polled is also of the opinion that the Government should get involved to find a resolution involving strikes lock outs or disputes. This is not surprising because the Government is expected get involved by enforcing the law in an independent manner.”

He said Government could also help fast tracking the dispute process towards a solution.

“Moreover, the tripartite forum related to wage setting has been dead for a long time and it must be explored whether there are good reasons to bring it back.

“Such forums can be helpful towards increasing job stability and improving productivity through employer-employee cooperation benefiting both workers and firms.”

He claimed the current tripartite structure dealt with rules and regulations and does not engage in wage setting.

Dr Gounder said although wages had increased in the public sector, this has been mainly done unilaterally by Government.

“Unions have complained that there has been no collective bargaining in such wage setting. It is worth considering whether this ensures efficient contracting.

But, from the workers’ perspective, he said collective bargaining would be useful for protection from arbitrary or unfair treatment.

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