The Fiji Trades Union Congress rejects this budget as an attempt to mislead people, without giving the people the full picture of the state of affairs.
Firstly, we reject the token increase in minimum wage for majority of workers in Fiji. An increase of minimum wage from $2.32 to $2.68 is no relief to workers who live in extreme poverty. This brings the weekly wage to $117.92 gross a week. Deduct FNPF; this comes to $108.49 a week. The poverty line as it stands is at $202.00 a week (Ministry of Poverty Alleviation). A slight increase to an already very low minimum wage does little to get people out of poverty. This is further eroded by the special treatment that the Garment Industry for trainers to be paid even lesser. The story just gets worse when we have our young people out of school who are employed under the National Employment Center at $60 a week without any other benefits. So one may ask, what is it in the budget for the very poor. Why did the AG tour schools and waste children’s time talking about the budget when there is nothing in it for them? We see nothing in this budget that attempts to lift the very poor out of poverty. This budget is good for businesses. It is unfortunate that the people who need assistance most are the very ones who are being ignored. This budget simply increases the inequality between the haves and the have not. This minimum wage gives no dignity to workers and condemns them to perpetual poverty. These people do not need a decrease in duty levels for health bars. They need to put decent food on the table for their families.
The FTUC remains skeptical about the salary increases that have been announced for civil servants. The Government has announced that the increases are a result of some job evaluation. We have not seen any reports of a job evaluation nor has it ever been discussed with the Unions in the Public Sector. There is no transparency as to how the increases announced will be actually implemented other than a reference to 15 grades being created. The Ministry of Education has issued a memorandum to all teachers that they should migrate from a tenure contract (indefinite contract) to individual fix term contracts which are between 1 and 3 year contracts. Those that do not enter into fix term contracts will not be given a salary increase. These contracts are heavily in favor of the Employer, which is the Government, does not guarantee renewal, and can be terminated at one months’ notice. This actually makes the job of teachers and civil servants insecure. The 13% pay rise does not compensate for the insecurity that individual fix term contracts offer and is in fact counterproductive. This brings untold difficulty to these workers in obtaining loans from banks or even to secure a roof over their heads.
The FTUC holds Government to their pledge at the ILO that it would fully respect the rights of all workers to collective bargaining. Government’s insistence on individual contracts is contradictory to its commitment. Conventions 87 and 98 guarantee the right of workers to freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining. We demand that government enter into collective bargaining in good faith with the Unions and enter into collective agreements, as the laws require. Government cannot make laws and then not respect them. The FTUC is seriously contemplating another complaint to the ILO on Governments refusal to enter into collective bargaining and its insistence on imposing unilaterally individual contracts on workers and further intimidating workers.
It is also noteworthy that civil servants since 2006 have only received a wage adjustment in 2014. Since 2006, real wage/salary has declined in excess of 45% due to the increase in the cost of living. The adjustments made in 2014 and now do not fully compensate to reinstate real wage and salary to the 2006 levels. So we are not at all mesmerized by such announcements. There clearly needs to be greater transparency in such proclamations.
We also note that there is a large pool of informal workers in Fiji. These workers do not have a formal employment contract but are self-employed or employed in the informal sector. The people who live in villages and rural areas are also in this category. The budget has totally disregarded them and has not attempted to address the social protection floor for these people. This budget exposes the power and influence of the rich on the Government of the day.
Much has been made out about lifting the tax threshold to thirty thousand dollars. It has been said and repeated that those earning less than thirty thousand dollars pay no tax. This is a blatant lie. Every citizen in Fiji pays 9% vat on any purchase they make. That is a consumption tax that the poor pay entirely from what they earn, as they do not have the ability to save. In addition to this, there are now numerous charges that have to be paid for any services that people may need from Government departments. In any case, this increase in the tax threshold does not benefit the poor and needy in our society.