COLA war heats up

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS . Public sector unions in the country have called for the reactivation of the Tripartite Forum to iron out the cost of living adjustment (COLA)
13 Jun 2008 12:00

image Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS . Public sector unions in the country have called for the reactivation of the Tripartite Forum to iron out the cost of living adjustment (COLA) issue which has them and the Public Service Commission (PSC) at loggerheads. Two major unions namely the Confederation of Public Sector Unions (CPSU) and Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions (FICTU) want the forum reactivated as they feel this would be the best avenue to discuss the performance management system (PMS) and COLA issues.
It is understood the unions are unhappy with the way dialogue on the issues are going and want discussions taken to another level, thus the call for the reactivation of the forum.
A decision by the interim government not to pay COLA this year because the economy is not doing well has not gone down well with the unions who said they will not take this decision lying down and would fight for their member’s rights and entitlement.
The PSC said current financial constraints would not allow it to negotiate for any COLA increase. PSC chairman Rishi Ram and permanent secretary Taina Tagicakibau have reiterated COLA would not be paid to civil servants this year.
Mr Ram who recently returned from a fact finding mission in Singapore said COLA was outdated and the introduction of the performance based system was the way to go for the civil service.
He said their assessment was the performance based system would lift the productivity level of the civil service and this system was working in many countries in which Singapore being one of them.
For some time he said the delivery of service by government departments had been slow and a major factor was modern technology which was missing from most government departments.
“To achieve productivity we have to move away from the idea of coming to work, laze around, go home and expect to be paid,” said Mr Ram.
This was the sort of issue he said they were looking at thus the need for the introduction of the performance based system.
An affiliate of the CPSU the Fiji Teachers Union said the interim government was asking for trouble with its decision not to pay COLA.
General secretary Agni Deo Singh said COLA was not an increase in wages but was intended to cushion the effects of the rising cost of living for civil servants.
He said the PSC was trying to display it was ignorant of the difference between performance based increases and COLA.
According to him this issue had been debated on many times and the Arbitration Tribunal had clarified that COLA and PBIs were different.
“Governments in the past have paid heavily for their mistakes and this government will not be any different,” said Mr Singh.
Another affiliate the Fiji Public Service Association said its members have instructed union executives to demand COLA payment. The union said it had been receiving requests from members seeking assistance because of financial difficulties.
The Fiji Employers Federation said it was time workers in the public and private sector were awarded on performance rather than a mandatory incentive like COLA.
President Dixon Seeto said the performance management system increased productivity and reduced costs and while COLA was an incentive for workers, employers too felt the pinch which was why they wanted a compromise.
He said a tripartite forum which included union, employer and government representatives would be the best place to discuss the above mentioned issues.
Prior to the coup of December 5 2006, it is believed plans had been made to reactivate the forum.
The Minister for Labour then Krishna Datt in November 2006 said efforts to reactivate the forum had been boosted with the allocation of $21,000 in the 2007 Budget. He said the forum has a vital role to play particularly in the Employment Relations Bill relating to the guidelines for labour management consultation and cooperation under the proposed Code of Good Faith.
“The Forum will focus on industrial relations and socio-economic issues at national level and it is envisaged that government will use the forum as the sounding board for contentious labour policy issues,” said Mr Datt.
The Fiji Trades Union Congress in a letter to interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama requested the reactivation of the forum saying it was the best way to deal with public service reform and address the PMS and COLA issues.
The FTUC said in view of the past experiences of substantial gains made in industrial stability, it proposed the new tripartite forum be on the model of National Tripartite Council of Singapore.
National secretary Felix Anthony said currently the six public sector unions appeared to be opposing the reforms and were bent on pressing ahead with their COLA claims.
“Our suggestion for reactivation of the tripartite forum is the best way to deal with your public service reform and address the PMS and COLA issues.
“The forum will also involve employers with unions, and of course, government will update the tripartite forum with their policy issues,” said Mr Anthony.
He said the current clutter and noise coming from the Fijian Teachers Association and FICTU would be forced to follow a settlement under the tripartite forum machinery where employers would be partners.
Mr Anthony said payment of performance increments and bonus payment based on productivity and merit would be under a criteria developed by the productivity charter which was signed a few years back by the three social partners, with amendments to fall in line with current economic conditions.
“Our proposal to reactivate the tripartite forum should help to stimulate economic growth and thereby raise standards of living of all people of our beloved country.
“The FTUC recognises and is mindful of the fact that tripartism is not an end in iself,” he said.
However Mr Anthony said through consultation and cooperation, it would aim to achieve an acceptable balance of interests and viewpoints on economic and social policies.
The FTUC he added supports the crucial importance of sustainable economic prosperity and social progress.
FICTU president Maika Namudu said they are hopeful the reactivation of the forum will address issues currently under discussion.
He said the Arbitration Tribunal in the past had awarded COLA payment and they would await the reactivation of the forum to see whether the COLA and PMS issues would be addressed.
“We are hopeful that the tripartite forum will address these issues. But if it doesn’t happen then we will have to lodge a Trade Dispute,” said Mr Namudu.

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