Individual Contracts Must Go

The FTUC calls on Government, Municipalities and all statutory bodies to revoke individual contracts and replace them with Collective Agreements. In March of 2015 and March of 2016, the Fijian Government made an unqualified undertaking that it would respect ILO Conventions 87 and 98 on the right of all workers to Freedom of Association and the right to organize and collectively bargain.  Based on that undertaking an Agreement was reached between the FTUC, FCEF and Government.  As a result of this Agreement, the ENI Decree and the Public Service Amendment Decree were repealed.  The ERP Amendment Act 2015 and 2016 restored these fundamental rights to all workers.  This resulted in the FTUC agreeing to withdraw its complaint to ILO under Article 26 for an ILO Commission of Inquiry.

While we have amended the laws, we find Government, Municipalities and Statutory bodies continuing to insist on Individual Contracts for workers.  An unequivocal undertaking and the amendments of the law is not sufficient. We need to see that these rights are put into practice.  Individual contracts go against the very spirit of collective bargaining and gives workers little or no job security.  Employers can at will, without cause, terminate contracts and we see many instances where this has occurred.  Bio Security of Fiji would be a case in point where it terminates employees summarily without cause and continues to deny giving reasons for termination despite that being a requirement of the laws of Fiji. Similar cases exist in many Government owned entities and the civil service.

Individual Contracts actually deny workers an effective voice at the workplace and forces workers to accept any terms and conditions offered no matter how unfair they may be. We have witnessed a serious decline in working conditions and benefits to workers since the imposition of the ENI Decree. Many Government owned companies and even Banks had simply decided to take full advantage of the ENI Decree to reduce benefits and force workers into fixed term contracts from 1 year to 3 years.  Some have even gone to the extent of only giving three month contracts which is renewed every three months just so that workers do no accrue long service or other benefits.  This is outrages and grossly unfair and a clear strategy to exploit workers.  This is tantamount to denying workers any rights and to bonded labour.  Workers are unable to plan their families and in many cases are unable to get loans from banks and other financial institutions for housing, health, education or even social commitments, the very essentials of life.  Clearly this does not fit the definition of “Decent Work” which this Government has also committed to ensure and which is an integral part of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). This also does not also fit into the definition of the right of workers to fair labour practices prescribed in our Constitution under the Bill of Rights. This is a clear violation, to the contrary.

The FTUC remains very concerned at the refusal of some Municipalities to enter into negotiations with Unions.  The Ministry of Local Government appears to be the only authority that approves these processes and vets any claims by unions and outcomes. This is a clear demonstration by the Minister and his Ministry of the lack of confidence in the Special Administrators and the desire to micro manage Municipal Councils.  It appears to be all about total power.  Temporary individual contracts in permanent jobs are rampant in almost all municipalities.  It is clearly time for democratic elections for Councils. The ratepayers must have their rightful voice. The excuse that a review of the Councils will take place prior to the elections is nothing but an excuse not to have elections so that Government can have total control.

The FTUC calls upon Government to scrap all individual contracts and revert to the contracts with full tenure as in the past.  The excuse that fixed term contracts hold workers to account and improves productivity is nothing but a farce.  In fact it disempowers workers and makes them feel insecure both professionally and socially. It once again brings back the “master- servant” relationship which was dismantled many years ago through collective bargaining.  Dignity at work is an essential element of Decent Work. The Government has to lead by example and must demonstrate its commitment to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining.  I call upon Government to enter into dialogue with the Unions to ensure fair working practices are in place and Decent Work is achieved in reality. Individual contracts for management positions and highly skilled positions are understandable but must not be imposed.  The imposition of individual contracts on the Civil Service, Municipal Councils and Government owned entities and banks to deny workers the right to Collective Bargaining a “badge of shame” for workers and human rights and needs immediate review and redress.

Felix Anthony,  National Secretary