In the interest of supporting the well-being of Fijian workers and ensuring stability in the Fijian economy, the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations sought a tripartite dialogue with the International Labour Organization, the Fiji Trades Union Congress and the Fiji Commerce and Employers Federation.
Unfortunately, the contribution from Mr Felix Anthony during the meeting left the Ministry deeply concerned that he is not interested in working with anyone to uphold the interests of Fijian workers. He is instead singularly focussed on derailing the direct economic benefits of the ongoing conference being hosted in Denarau, the single largest international gathering ever held in Fiji.
“I’m the Minister for Employment. It’s my job to sustain and create jobs for ordinary Fijians. One of the best ways to do that is by marketing Fiji, Fijian products and the talents of the Fijian people to the rest of the world. Right now, in Denarau, the conference we are hosting is essentially the biggest-ever commercial run for Fiji and Fijian products, with one hundred million people from around the world tuning in to watch. That’s going to drive tourism, that’s going to attract investment, that’s going to sustain and create jobs in Fiji and raise salaries by growing Fijian companies. Now, I met with Felix because I wanted to make sure this meeting was a success. But he wasn’t interested in any of that. He wasn’t interested in helping Fiji create and sustain more jobs and produce higher salaries for ordinary people – the only job he is interested in sustaining is his own,” said Minister for Employment Parveen Bala.
During the meeting, Anthony claimed that unions had not been consulted during the Government’s ongoing civil service reform programme. This is false. Government has made every effort to consult regularly with all public-sector unions. These meetings have been held at regular intervals over a three-year period to seek input from the unions prior to and during the rollout of the reforms. Unfortunately, it was the unions who actually declined to attend a number of the planned consultations.
The reforms that Mr Anthony harps over to the cameras are, in fact, already underway. The reality is that the introduction of family care leave, the extension of maternity leave, the introduction – for the first time – of paternity leave, and the enormous civil service pay rises and new insurance programmes, have all been put forward on Government’s own initiative.
The Ministry remains committed to pursuing all reforms through the mechanism of the Employment Relations Advisory Board (ERAB), which employs a tripartite approach, with representation from Government, employee groups and employer groups. However, again, the unions have failed to attend ERAB meetings. Currently, the Fijian Government has met all but one of the ILO requirements set out in the tripartite agreement signed in 2016. We are preparing to meet the one remaining requirement by inviting the ILO to conduct a review of the essential services in our employment laws. However, this requires participation from the unions in the ERAB meetings in order to move forward. Soon, we will go ahead with a workshop to review the listings of essential services in our employment laws. With or without the unions participation in ERAB, we will move forward with this review and with public consultations on this matter.
Anthony also claimed that unions have not been involved in the review of the minimum wage. The Fijian Government has already announced a comprehensive review of the minimum wage by a third-party consultant. As we saw in the review of the minimum wage only two years ago, the consultant at that time met with all stakeholders, and all members of the public were free to participate in consultations, including unions and trade unions at the district and national levels. This review will again be a transparent process open to all Fijians, not privy only to a few.
Anthony cited the situation at the Water Authority of Fiji as an unfair violation of workers’ rights. He failed to acknowledged that no permanent staff have been terminated from WAF, and that all WAF contracted employees were paid out through the entirety of their project periods of employment. The Ministry is confident that WAF has met with all legal requirements pertaining to project workers. We also know that WAF has given current project workers the opportunity to be engaged in future WAF projects.
“I’m seriously concerned that Felix will only accept one type of progress, progress on his own terms where he gets to claim all the credit. The fact is, this Government has been introducing new policies and programmes of its own volition, designed exclusively to benefit Fijian workers – adding family care leave, extending maternity leave, introducing paternity leave for the first time, increasing salaries for civil servants, and engaging with unions over a three-year period on the civil service reforms. We’ve announced a national review of the minimum wage and we’re reforming labour laws. All of this progress has been made not because of Mr Anthony, but in spite of him,” said Minister Bala. “We’re working with workers in a transparent manner, a manner where all workers have a voice in the process, not only a handful of union bosses. I want to wish every Fijian a Happy International Workers’ Day. I urge workers not to celebrate the occasion by sacrificing an historic opportunity for Fiji, all to prevent Mr Anthony’s fizzling relevance. The Fiji of the 21st Century requires union leadership that doesn’t shut the door on a collaborative approach and who understands how to serve the needs of Fijian workers in a competitive, globalised, and modern economy.”