The Minister for Labour has been going around blowing his own trumpet and trying to put a new spin on Industrial Relations in Fiji. Clearly his version of how workers rights are protected and enhanced by his Government is not the reality that workers have either seen or experienced.
He is right in claiming that workers rights are protected in the Employment Relations Act and the Constitution. What he fails to understand is that no matter how good the written law is, it is absolutely useless to the worker if he or she is unable to exercise them. The Minister makes no mention of the fact that Government being the biggest employer in the country openly flouts these laws. The Minister might want to explain how workers are able to exercise their rights to collective bargaining when the Government makes it a condition of employment for workers to enter into individual fix term contracts. These workers have been forced to sign these contracts that go against the very grain of collective bargaining and are in violation of the very laws that he trumpets as workers rights. The choice to enter into a individual contract or a collective Agreement is that of the worker and not the employer. The laws are clear in this respect and so is ILO Convention 98 on the right to collective bargaining. Government and Employers must respect the choice workers make. Government must set a good example for the private sector but we are witnessing quite the opposite.
The Minister talks about a fairer workplace forgetting that all Government employees’ contracts stipulate that it can be terminated for no cause at one months notice. How is this fair? How is it fair when his own Ministry does not enforce the labour laws in this country? One only has to look at the working conditions in our supermarkets or garment factories. Conditions there boarder in bonded labour. No one has the right to speak or even raise an issue for fear of being terminated. Workers are scared of joining unions in these industries for fear of being terminated. Many of our young workers are being exploited under the National Employment Scheme at $60 a week with no other conditions. How is it fair when workers have no right to conduct secret ballot for strike action, let alone the right to strike. The Minister might also like to know that our Dispute Settling machinery is moving at a snail’s pace. Workers have to wait months and in many cases years to have matters resolved. These are some matters that are of public knowledge and here we have a Minister for Labour who believes everything is hunky dory.
The Minister claims that Tripartism is alive and well and goes on to try and paint a rosy picture of tripartite consultations. The fact is that Tripartism has been decimated by this Government. The Minister may want to explain why there is no longer any Tripartism in FNPF, FNU, TPAF, ATS, Wages Councils and now the Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB). The Minister knows too well that he has unilaterally imposed the minimum wage, as he was told to do, without any consideration of the consultation that was needed to be conducted with the social partners. He has imposed regulations and amendments to ERA without any consultations with ERAB and has amended the Wages Councils unilaterally to reduce benefits to workers and yet trumpets Tripartism and how important these consultative processes are.
The Paternity Leave, Maternity leave and Family leave were matters that the Unions have pushed for many years. In fact they are part of the Labour Law Review which both the FCEF and FTUC are insisting that Government act upon. The Unions had asked to increase the annual leave provisions in the course of discussions at the ERAB sub-committee years ago. The Government instead called it family leave. So there are no new ideas which the Government or this Minister has implemented other than to canibalise the tripartite machinery.
The FTUC does not believe that this Minister for Labour is in touch with reality. He simply follows instructions handed down to him. This Government is only good at lecturing but very short on action. We call on the Minister to explain why his Government has not to date honoured the Agreement signed with the FCEF and FTUC and witnessed by the Director General of ILO or the Joint Implementation agreement. We call on the Minister to make good all his pronouncements or stop misleading the workers and the public.