Rulings show workers’ rights guaranteed under ERP
Those who have been clamouring about workers’ rights in this country must be travelling blind. If they have been observant and not wearing their blinkers, they would notice that under the Employment Relations Promulgation Act 2015 (ERP), all workers, unionised and non-unionised, are being given a fair go.
Recently, most of the judgments that have come out of the Employment Relations Tribunal (ERT) and the appellant court, the Employment Relations Court (ERC) have ruled in favour of workers. These are independent courts set up by the Act to adjudicate on employment grievances and disputes.
When mediation fails, parties in a dispute can take their grievances to the ERT. If the ruling is not in their favour, they can lodge an appeal with the ERC.
Under the then Alliance Government of the late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, a Tripartite Forum was set up to deal with industrial relations disputes pertaining to employment issues like pay and working conditions.
Despite the best intents of the forum, disputes escalated into stop works and strikes. In the history of industrial relations in the country, the 1970’s and 1980’s saw one of the most volatile periods.
Militant trade unionists tried to hold the Government and the country to ransom through sometimes unreasonable demands. The country and the people suffered.
The ERP has provided the stability and promoted peace in the industrial relations arena.
One of its hallmarks is its inclusiveness.
Those who do not belong to any union can take their grievances to the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations.
In the recent Parliament sittings we heard Minister Jone Usamate say there was a heavy emphasis in the ERP on making people being included.
He said: “The previous legislations that we have in the Ministry of Labour, only allowed people who were members of trade unions to come and register grievances with the ministry. With some of the changes that were done a few years ago, those sorts of barriers have been removed. Now, all of those who do have grievances, they have the freedom to be able to bring their grievances to the Ministry and there are mechanisms in place to address those.
“We know that sometimes when cases are brought up and there is an attempted mediation between the person who has a grievance and the employer, mediation fails and cases have to be brought up to the Employment Relations Tribunal. We have staff within the Ministry who have some training and who can represent workers who feel aggrieved.
“There is a heavy emphasis of the equal employment opportunities to make sure there is no discrimination by different kinds of people. There is also in the Employment Promulgation, a section which asks the employers to try to open up work opportunities for those who are physically challenged.
“We try to set aside proportions on their total workforce, to give those people an opportunity to get employment themselves.”
The Act has also opened the door for public officers and employees in the designated industries under the repealed Essential National Industries (Employment) Decree 2011, like Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority, Water Authority of Fiji and the Fiji Electricity Authority, to file grievances.
In the ERT and ERC, aggrieved workers do not have to be represented by a lawyer.
All they need is a person who has knowledge of ERP and maybe with some background in industrial relations.
Some of the recent successful cases were represented by non-lawyers. And there have been some interesting compensation payout rulings.
So if you hear some unionists and politicians complaining about workers’ rights, don’t believe them.
Their rights are intact under ERP.