JUST MINIMUM WAGE FOR ALL

The FTUC Biennial Conference held in Nadi on 7th May 2016 launched a campaign to raise the National Minimum Wage to $4 an hour. While the FTUC is mindful that the $4 Minimum wage will still peg workers below the poverty line, we believe that $4 is a decent starting point to work towards a Minimum Wage that is pegged above the poverty line. The FTUC estimates that the poverty line is around $4.50 an hour. We advocate that annual adjustments must be made to work towards that goal.

The Constitution of Fiji at Chapter 2, Section 33 clearly states “The State must take reasonable measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realization of the right of every person to work and to a just minimum wage.” The current minimum wage of $2.32 is grossly inadequate and condemns workers to extreme poverty. It is not a realistic starting point to progressively ensure a “just Minimum Wage” as the target is too far off and annual inflationary movements will further make it impossible to realize a minimum wage above the poverty line.

The situation is further compounded by the National Employment Center policy on providing employment for young people. The wage guideline set for attaches is $60 per week without any FNPF deductions, overtime payments or any other benefits applicable to these workers all in the name of creating employment. The reality is that in many workplaces, permanent employees are being replaced by these attaches at $60 per week. This has undermined the National Minimum wage and the minimum conditions set out in the Employment Relations Promulgation. What is happening in Fiji is that we are driving the wages downwards, a race to the bottom.

The current minimum wage of $2.32 means a weekly wage of $96.05 after FNPF deductions. Then we need to take 9% off that for VAT. This leaves the worker with $87.41 per week. A conservative 2015 estimate for Basic Needs Poverty Line is around $185.00 per week. This leaves a massive gap of about $97.59 per week. As time goes on, our people get deeper and deeper into poverty and debt, yet we wonder why productivity is still low. It is no secret that happy workers are more productive and it is the right time to address this issue.

The FTUC notes the concerns of employers. We also note that some 15 years ago, the Unions called for minimum wages to be increased to the poverty line through the Wages Councils. We were promptly told by employers that the time was not right. The past Chairperson, Fr. Kevin Barr of the Wages Council also advocated the same and was told the same thing just 6 years ago. We are now again told the time is not right. Well, when will the time be right for workers in Fiji to earn a just Minimum Wage. It appears never.

The FTUC understands the plight of small businesses and is receptive to some concessions for this lot. However it disagrees that bigger businesses hide behind the small businesses to pay poverty wages and claim to be concerned about small businesses. This trick will no longer work. Threats of unemployment rising are mere threats and FTUC is confident that if workers earn more, economic activity will increase, which will in turn create demand and jobs. This will be good for businesses as well. This is good for Government as when people spend more they pay more VAT. Decent work is also about a just wage and conditions of employment and not merely any job.

We recall the promise that the Prime Minister made to the people to create a Just society and that no Fijian will be left behind. So far it’s only the workers who have been left behind and we call on Government to act with some determination to ensure a fair deal for workers. A $4 minimum wage is a good place to start.

Workers Rights Weakened – ITUC Global Index Report

Here’s information on workers right situation in the region adapted from the ITUC webpage.

2016 marks the Worst Year on Record in Most Regions for Attacks on Free Speech and Democracy.

­According to the 2 ITUC Global Rights Index,”  Weakening of workers’ rights in most regions is being aggravated by severe crackdowns on freedom of speech and assembly.
 
Restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, including severe crackdowns in some countries, increased by 22%, with 50 out of 141 countries surveyed recording restrictions. The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 141 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.
“We are witnessing the closing of democratic space and an increase in insecurity, fear and intimidation of working people. The speed at which attacks on rights are being forced through, even in democracies with the Finish government’s proposals and the new trade union law in the United Kingdom, shows an alarming trend for working people and their families,” said Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary.
“Repression of workers’ rights goes hand in hand with increased government control over freedom of expression, assembly and other fundamental civil liberties, with too many governments seeking to consolidate their own power and frequently doing the bidding of big business, which often sees fundamental rights as incompatible with its quest for profit at any expense.”
The Middle East and North Africa were again the worst region for working people, with the kafala system in the Gulf still enslaving millions of workers. At the other end of the scale, rights in Europe, traditionally the best-performing region in the Index, continue to deteriorate. Despite the obvious failure of austerity policies, many European governments are continuing to undermine workers’ rights. The failure of most European countries to fulfil their obligations to refugees, including the right to work, is making the problem worse.
The International Trade Union Confederation has been collecting data on violations of workers’ rights to trade union membership and collective bargaining around the world for more than 30 years. This is the third year the ITUC has presented its findings through the Global Rights Index, putting a unique and comprehensive spotlight on how government laws and business practices have deteriorated or improved in the last 12 months.
The ten worst countries for working people are Belarus, China, Colombia, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Qatar, Turkey and United Arab Emirates.
Cambodia, India, Iran and Turkey joined the ranking of the ten worst countries for working people for the first time in 2016. The Cambodian government approved a new Trade Union Law further limiting workers’ ability to negotiate over their working conditions and pay, while police in India regularly use disproportionate violence against workers holding protests with many detained for simply exercising their rights guaranteed in national laws. Iran uses heavy prison sentences against workers for peaceful activities, and Turkey is targeting public servants engaging in legitimate and peaceful union activities, with at least 1,390 public sector workers under investigation. The Turkish government has also become synonymous with attacks on freedom of speech, with ten foreign journalists banned since last October and Turkish journalists facing severe repression including trial and imprisonment on bogus grounds including “national security”.
“All four new additions to the rogues’ gallery of the ten worst countries are clear examples of the combined assault on workers’ rights and other fundamental freedoms,” said Burrow.
In other countries outside the ten worst, conditions worsened in the past year, including in Indonesia, Montenegro and Paraguay. Protests in Indonesia against changes to the minimum wage fixing system were brutally crushed with police using water cannons, tear gas and mass arrests. The Paraguayan government is consistently denying the registration of trade unions, exposing workers to discrimination by employers while bankruptcy laws in Montenegro suspend basic rights laws during bankruptcy proceedings with workers in some 2,363 enterprises affected in the past five years.
The reports key findings include:
  • 82 countries exclude workers from labour law
  • Over two-thirds of countries have workers who have no right to strike
  • More than half of all countries deny some or all workers collective bargaining
  • Out of 141 countries, the number which deny or constrain free speech and freedom of assembly increased from 41 to 50 with Algeria, Cameroon, the United States and Pakistan joining the list
  • Out of 141 countries, the number in which workers are exposed to physical violence and threats increased by 44 per cent (from 36 to 52) and include Colombia, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia and the Ukraine
  • Unionists were murdered in 11 countries, including Chile, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Peru, South Africa and Turkey

“Working collectively for better wages, rights and conditions makes workers targets of both state security forces and thugs hired by companies,” said Burrow. “This is happening in both the public and private sectors, including in global supply chains, which are a notorious source of exploitation and poverty. Governments need to uphold their obligations under international law through the legal standards they themselves adopt at the International Labour Organization, and ensure that multinational companies based in their country are answerable for all the workers in their international operations at home and abroad. The alternative is yet more impoverishment of working families and further flat lining of the global economy as people struggle just to pay their daily bills, unable to invest in their children’s future or to make even the most modest purchases.”

The 2016 ITUC Global Rights Index rates countries from one to five according to 97 indicators, with an overall score placing countries in one to five rankings.

  1. Irregular violations of rights: 13 countries including Germany & Uruguay
  2. Repeated violations of rights: 22 countries including Ireland & Japan
  3. Regular violations of rights: 41 countries including Australia & Israel
  4. Systematic violations of rights: 30 countries including Poland & USA
  5. No guarantee of rights: 25 countries including Belarus, China & Nigeria
  6. No guarantee of rights due to breakdown of the rule of law: 10 countries including Burundi, Palestine & Syria,

For more information click on the links below:
Read the report: ITUC Global Rights Index 2016
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index map
Download the ITUC Global Rights Index Infographic – Ten worst countries in the world for working people.

 

” Organizing – the pathway to decent work and social justice ” – Anthony

The Fiji Trades Union Congress   continues its intensive campaign on organizing workers into unions  to promote Freedom of Association and  Collective Bargaining as the means to achieve decent work and social justice.

A Training of Trainers  for Union Organizers was conducted on 3rd to 4th of August 2016 at the Capricorn International Hotel, Nadi supported by ILO ACTRAV for FTUC to continue to strengthen its institutions.Selected  members who are lead organisers  in their respective unions were trained on effective organizing skills, the labour  law promoting freedom of association, basic minimum terms and conditions of employment and dispute and grievance procedures  as stipulated in the ERP,to name a few.

The ILO Workers Specialist for the Pacific,  Ms Jotika Sharma  emphasized on the need for organizers to be prepared with adequate and up-to date information on the laws pertaining to and securing the right  of workers to join union and to engage in collective  bargaining. She further elaborated on the Fiji laws that an organiser must be aware of  to encourage workers to join unions and how these could be utlized by workers themselves to deal with issues at the workplace that were in direct contravention with ILO Conventions 87 & 98 and the ERP 2007.  Bro Raghwan, a retired Workers Specialist and now practicing as a IR Consultant discussed how the Fiji case unfolded within the ILO supervisory mechanisms and the outcome of the decisions of the Committee on Application of Standards (CAS) and Committee of Experts on Application of Conventions  and Recommendations (CEACR).

The participants also   built on their skills on effective organizing techniques, and how to efficiently deal with  challenges faced in the field. Good practices were shared by  representatives from the NUFCW,  NUHCTIE, FMWA and NUW.  The 2 day program also focused on developing user friendly education materials to promote  Freedom  of Association and  it was concluded that issues based approach was the ideal way forward.

The training concluded with the National Secretary Bro Felix Anthony encouraging the organizers to   focus on the vulnerable workers where decent working conditions were far from reach. He further mentioned that unions needed to invest resources to increase membership and resources to protect and maintain the membership.  He emphasized that organizing was the only pathway to achieving decent work and social justice for workers.

The participants submitted their draft work plans and education material templates that will be used by the network to promote organizing in the field in the next months.  They will be assisted by the FTUC to implement their plans  within the sectors identified in  the planning meeting  on Friday the 5th of August. A video  promoting the Right to Organise and The Minimum wage campaign was launched at the workshop.