Investigate Collusion and Corruption – FTUC

The FTUC is deeply concerned at the revelations of contributions to the incumbent Governing Party (FFP) by some employers and business around the country. The alleged amounts are shockingly excessive and borders on corruption. The FTUC notes that some Garment Manufacturers are amongst those that have allegedly given contributions to the Governing Party. These are some Manufacturers who recently claimed that they cannot afford a minimum wage of $4 and threatened to close factories causing huge unemployment yet can afford to contribute to Government’s re-election campaign by giving exorbitant amounts of money. We note also that none of the contributors have denied the allegations nor has the Governing Party. This is rather disturbing and goes against the grains of transparency, accountability and good governance.

The FTUC notes that a complaint has been lodged to the Supervisor of Elections

(SOE) and Fiji Revenue and Customs Service (FRCS), who appear to have either refused to act upon the complaint or are protecting the Governing Party and their contributors. This is very concerning. We demand a response from all involved in these allegations and authorities responsible to monitor such behavior and enforce the laws. These laws are applicable to all and not just Trade Unions or opposition political parties.We also note that the media has not reported on this matter or sought any answers again. Another demonstration of media bias and or intimidation of the media.

The FTUC is further concerned as there appears to be collusion between some businesses and governing party to keep the National Minimum Wage to extreme poverty levels. These are some businesses that deny their workers Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining. It  is now becoming clearer as to why the Ministry of Labor enforcement is so weak in some areas and why the Ministry is slow to act on any reports. Workers need answers to these allegations and not silence from those supposedly involved, hoping that such behavior will be acceptable or forgotten.

The FTUC notes that Trade Unions and their officials are not allowed to participate in the political process yet some Employers are not only allowed but also contribute financially huge amounts of cash to the ruling party. This is grossly unfair. This practice of some businesses  funding the ruling party and the ruling party accepting such funding undermines democracy and is grossly unfair to workers of Fiji and puts workers at immense disadvantage.

The FTUC demands answers.

Felix Anthony

National Secretary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Garment Industry and Government Industry collude” – Anthony

The FTUC is not surprised that the Textile and Garments Manufacturers are once again issuing threats of job losses if the National Minimum Wage is increased. This mantra has been repeated every time over the years whenever workers needed a wage adjustment. Yet when Fr. Barr’s Wages Councils attempted to get the same manufacturers to open their books to show that they really could not afford any wage adjustments, this invitation was refused. This industry has been responsible for the low wage structure in Fiji only because it has the ears of this Government and has been supporting this Government in return.

The garment industry has always been the lowest paid in the country and working conditions have been the harshest where workers are virtually locked in the factory. Many manufacturers have been paying workers on a piece rate basis depending on the number of pieces of garment employees produce. In many cases, workers have had to work long hours to earn sufficient wages. This industry also has a reputation of abusing workers, ill treating workers, using trainees and attaches on the production line to reduce wage cost. We constantly hear that the Garment industry is not doing well yet what we fail to understand is that the owners personally are doing extremely well with properties all over the place including abroad. They simply do not want to share the huge profits that they are making. They constantly are threatening to close shop if wage rates are too high. It is time to call their bluff. Section 20(1) of the Fiji Constitution clearly states that every person has a right to fair employment practices, including humane treatment and proper working conditions. Yet the Garment industry seems to enjoy exemptions from this provision of the law. We have also experienced stiff opposition from garment manufacturers denying workers their right to join trade unions and unions having excess to workplaces as allowed by law.

The FTUC recognizes that the threat from the owners to close shop was well timed for the elections. They have received good coverage from the media. The purpose was to assist the ruling party to scare workers into voting for them. Some of these factories actually allowed Aiyaz Kaiyum, the Secretary of Fiji First Party to visit the factories during working hours to speak to the workers about not demanding too much of a pay rise or jobs will be lost. The FTUC condemns such tactics by the factory owners and Aiyaz Kaiyum. This is nothing short of intimidation of workers and scare mongering. This is not how a responsible political party seeks votes of poor workers to stay in power. In fact it appears to be a desperate strategy and the FTUC calls on Aiyaz Kaiyum and the garment manufacturers to behave responsibly and respect the rights of workers to decent wages and an end to exploitation.

Felix Anthony
National Secretary

FTUC accepts 16 new affiliates from the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions

FTUC accepts 16 new affiliates from the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions

 By Navitalai Naivalurua
 Sunday 28/10/2018

 

 FTUC National Secretary Felix Anthony

The Fiji Trades Union Congress has accepted sixteen new affiliates from the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions and has also nominated two representatives of Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions to the Executive Board of the Fiji Trade Union Congress.

The two representatives are Netani Druavesi who is the President of the Fijian Teachers Association and Kamlesh Kumar from the Transport Workers Union.

FTUC National Secretary Felix Anthony says they have also resolved to call a special conference in February next year to amend the constitution which will allow the inclusion of the representatives as principle office bearers of Fiji Trade Union Congress.

Representatives of the two organisations met yesterday to make the final preparations to merge the two organizations.

 

 

“We have in place a Government that is anti-worker and anti-union” – Anthony

Town council suspends manager

Source: Fiji Times

 

LAUTOKA City Council’s manager health services and Fiji Local Government Association national president Rouhit Karan Singh was stood down yesterday for “engaging in non-council functions during normal working hours”.

He said he was verbally informed of the decision by LCC chief executive officer Jone Nakauvadra and handed an official letter late yesterday afternoon.

“I was called into a meeting with the CEO and he told me that I was being stood down from my post based on allegations they had received that I was doing non-council work during working hours,” he said.

“I requested them to issue a letter stating these claims and I received a formal letter at about 4.30pm informing me of the decision.

“He also asked me to return any council property that I had with me and the only thing I had was a mobile phone.”

The Fiji Times sighted the letter signed by Mr Nakauvadra which said that he was being stood down with pay while investigations were being conducted into claims he had been doing non-council activities during working hours.

Mr Singh said he was at a loss as to the reason he was being suspended.

“I don’t really know what kind of non-council work I did during working hours because that could mean anything.

“All they said was that I was doing some union work which again is not very clear.

“Now that I have the letter and it gives an indication of their claims, I will use it to present my case.

“This is a very sad day because I have given over 10 years of service to the council.”

In a statement, Fiji Trades Union Congress national secretary Felix Anthony condemned the suspension.

He said this action was nothing short of discrimination for legitimate trade union activity and reaffirmed FTUC’s claim that “we have in place a Government that was anti-worker and anti-union”.

“This action is to instil fear in council workers that they dare not speak against the Government,” he said.

“The FTUC demand that Mr Singh be reinstated to his former position without loss of pay.”

When contacted yesterday, Local Government Minister Parveen Kumar referred all queries to his permanent secretary Joshua Wycliffe.

Mr Wycliffe said the matter was under investigation and he was unable to comment. Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations Jone Usamate said he was not aware of Mr Singh’s suspension, however, he was free to appeal the council’s decision.

“Any worker who feels he or she has been terminated unfairly always has the right to appeal the decision to the employer and ultimately to the ministry,” he said.

“Conditions of employment are defined by contracts of employment which in turn will specify disciplinary procedures.”

Dictatorship

The FTUC condemns the Minister of Local Governments decision to suspend from duties the General Secretary of the Fiji Local Governments Officers Association, Mr. Rouhit Karan Singh for raising in the media, Lautoka City Council’s decision not to negotiate with the Union. The Minister also had in response said the councils will not negotiate with the unions. This action of the Minister is nothing short of discrimination for legitimate trade union activity and reaffirms FTUC’s claim that we have in place a government that is anti worker and anti union.

This action of the Minister is a desperate political decision to instill fear in council workers that they dare not speak against the Government. Yet we have him and other Government Ministers going around the country telling people about transparency, accountability that respects Human rights. This is again a clear signal that Fiji has a long way to go to achieve true democracy with this Government, where freedom of speech is not tolerated. This comes on the heels of Fiji being elected to the UN Human Rights Council. Fiji must explain its constant efforts to suppress trade union rights and freedom of speech of its citizens. It does not respect nor comply with its international obligations on worker rights. More recently the Government denied workers the right to assemble and march in protest for workers’ rights. For too long workers and the general population in this country have been intimidated and actually live in fear of this Government.  This includes the business community who are forced to financially contribute to this Governments re-election. Again financial contributions are made out of fear of retribution if they don’t. This atrocity on the people of Fiji must stop. Workers demand recognition, rights, freedoms and true democracy.

The FTUC demand that Mr. Singh be reinstated to his former position without loss of pay. The Minister must explain his actions and educate himself on the labour laws of Fiji. We ask the Minister to read Section 6 of the Employment Relations Act where it is illegal to discriminate any worker for trade union membership or activity. Government must rule by example and shred its dictatorship and thuggery tendencies.

This is just another reason why workers must think long and hard before choosing the next Government. Any new Government must respect workers rights and their unions. It is time for the people of Fiji to free themselves of this dictatorship.

Felix Anthony

National Secretary

Video on Justice Served

Posted by Justice Served on Monday, August 6, 2018

 

FTUC is not instructing its affiliate unions or members on who to vote for in 2018 general elections – By Dhanjay Deo

The National Secretary of the Fiji Trades Union Congress Felix Anthony says the FTUC is not instructing its affiliate unions or members on who to vote for in 2018 general elections but they are concerned that the current government shows little or no respect for workers’ rights.

Anthony has also stated that it is time for the teachers to decide for themselves on whether they want to continue to have the fixed term contracts without any collective bargaining rights or they want a more secure future in the teaching profession.

We questioned Anthony again on whether the FTUC or its affiliate unions are instructing their members on who to vote for as the unions have already stated that they are not happy with the current government’s policies for civil servants.

Anthony has denied this but has stated they are encouraged by some political parties who have said that they will work with the trade unions.

Meanwhile, Fiji Teachers Union General Secretary, Agni Deo Singh has also denied that they are advising their members on who to vote for in the elections.

Meanwhile, former senior minister of the Fiji Labour Party Krishna Datt had told the people in a National Federation Party campaign that if teachers in the country have any self-respect, they will not vote for the FijiFirst as he says the current government has taken away the self-respect and pride of teachers.

Datt says he still works from the office at Fiji Teachers Union building and meets teachers every day.

He says he is currently writing about the history of Fiji Teachers Union.

Press Release: Poverty in Fiji

The FTUC responds to the Attorney General who relies on outdated Household Income and Expenditure Study 2013-2014 to justify that the poverty rate in the country has declined today. This is absolutely false. We are aware that these numbers are massaged down to make Government look good. We in the Trade Union movement are in daily touch with workers and understand best what the real situation is on the ground.

The reality is that from 2007 to 2018 majority of workers in poverty have only received minimal adjustments. Collective bargaining in all industries was totally absent and therefore even cost of living adjustments were not made with a very few exceptions. More recently, we have only seen bonuses given to a few groups of workers. During the same period, Wages Council Orders have been adjusted only twice and more recently once with minimal adjustments.  The last adjustments was made unilaterally by Government with some benefits been reduced such as public holiday pay. A National Minimum Wage was set up in 2014 at $2.00 an hour which increased to $2.32 an hour in 2015 and $2.68 an hour in 2017. The argument that Minimum Wage is for unskilled workers is untenable. Every worker in Fiji deserves a decent wage irrespective of skills. This is a human rights issue.

Real wage has declined substantially within this period and in some cases up to 40%. In FSC for instance since 2007 to 2016, real wage declined by about 35% after a 10% wage adjustment was made in two parts over few years. But so has employment in the industry. From a high of 3500 employees to now about 1800 employees. Seasonal workers who comprise of almost half the workforce, who used to work 8 or 9 months a year now only work 4 to 5 months a year. The fact is that real wage has declined substantially over the past years. In 2016, the Ministry of poverty stated that the poverty line stood at $202.00 a week. That works out to about $4.60 an hour on a 44 hour week. Majority of workers in Fiji earn nowhere near that figure. That figure has now in 2018 has increased with the cost of living. This is why the FTUC in 2016 launched a campaign to increase the National Minimum Wage to $4.00 an hour with annual adjustments to ensure that the National Minimum Wage becomes the Living wage above the poverty line. This gives time for Employer to adjust.

Workers are more and more getting into debt and relying on withdrawals from FNPF, credit unions and money lenders in cases of emergency, housing and education.  We have also witnessed an increase in squatter settlements in the fringes of towns and cities. Noodles have become the staple food for many in Fiji. These figures that show decline in poverty simply does not match with the reality.

Pensioners are worse off with the reduction in FNPF pensions. One has to wonder why more than 75%  of members of FNPF have savings less than $10,000 and an additional 21% have less than $50,000 and only 4% have savings above $50,000. This tells a sad story about choices workers have on retirement where the current pension scheme is not an option for 96% of members of FNPF. This Government actually encourages workers to withdraw their retirement savings in case of natural disasters abdicating its own responsibility to assist the needy.

The AG talks about VAT being reduced from 15% to 9% but forgets to tell people that all basic food items that were previously zero rated are now subject to 9% VAT. This impacts the poorest most who earn well below the poverty line but pay 9% on all basic food items. This 9% also affects pensioners and even those unemployed or underemployed. So, the claim that workers earning less than $30,000 pay no tax is a lie. Everyone pays at least 9% tax on what they spend and the burden is heavier on the lowest paid as they spend 100% of their earning every week and in many cases much more through borrowings. The decrease of VAT from 15% to 9% was not matched with the decrease in price of other goods. Prices remained stagnant or increased due to increased import duty. One good example has been Rewa Milk. Despite zero import duty of dairy products for Rewa Dairy, price of milk increased. Imported milk which is heavily taxed is still cheaper in some cases.

There has been much said about free transportation, food vouchers, education and other freebies. There is currently no credible data as to the impact of these freebies and the numbers that actually benefit from them. We still have parents who are unable to afford uniforms, footwear, children turn up to school without lunch, free transport not available to all and giveaways like $1000 closer to elections, which are totally unaccountable. No one in Government has any idea how many small businesses’ have actually started up and what impact it has had to reduce poverty, if any. Other services that are provided, apply to only a small number of people like the elderly and the disabled and are again very minimal. We in Fiji today do not have a well thought out policy on social safety net for our people that give dignity to those most disadvantaged. These are just ad-hoc political programs and give no dignity to people nor does it help reduce poverty.  They are simply short-term vote buying strategies and propaganda.

It is also claimed that the income inequality gap is closing. People in Fiji can see that the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. Wages have not kept up with the increase in the cost of living. These studies are simply an academic exercise and there is an obvious disconnect with reality. We note that the study referred to is also outdated and for the period 2008 to 2013, a period of economic stagnation after the coup. We are now in 2018 and the gap simply has got wider. This is mainly because the coup and of this Government’s Minimum Wage policy which condemns workers to extreme poverty. Employment has become more insecure because of the imposition of individual contracts. Our young people are being exploited under the National Employment Scheme (NEC) at $60 a week with no other benefits. Permanent workers are being replaced by attaches from NEC mainly in the wholesale and retail and garment sectors. We count each of them as new employment while we do not count the permanent jobs that have been lost as a result. We do not take into account under employment and casualization of work, which is becoming a worrisome issue.

It is time to deal with reality and not rely on outdated statistics. We commend the Catholic Church for raising these issues and bringing them to the fore and encourage all other religious organizations to do the same. This is all about social justice.   This is about uplifting the lives of those that are most disadvantaged in our society. These are real issues that affect all workers and their families. It is time that workers to think long and hard and decide what is best for them and their family when choosing the next Government.

Felix Anthony

National Secretary