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FLP: We’ll Restore Rights of the Civil Service

Party opinion Mahendra Chaudhry Fiji Labour Party leader leader Since 2009, the trade union movement in Fiji has been effectively marginalised by the Bainimarama administration, leaving workers, and in particular,
09 Aug 2014 08:36

Party
opinion
Mahendra Chaudhry Fiji Labour Party leader leader
Since 2009, the trade union movement in Fiji has been effectively marginalised by the Bainimarama administration, leaving workers, and in particular, those in the civil service, completely at the mercy of employers.
Trade unions were targeted because as strong democratic organisations, they posed a real threat to the excesses of an authoritarian regime and the abrogation of civilian rights. Trade unions had to be silenced.
The first to come under the knife were cane farmers’ organisations following the abrogation of the 1997 Constitution in April 2009 and the imposition of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) which had banned all political activities.
A series of decrees, thereafter, effectively removed the rights of workers in the Civil Service: the State Services Decree 6 of 2009, followed by the highly repressive Decree 21 of 2011.
Workers and their unions in the private sector were then targeted under Decree 35 of 2011 which removed the bargaining rights of workers in key industries in the private sector. It is believed that Decree 35 has affected all but three trade unions in the country, one way or another.
In the past seven years, the regime has systemically militarised and politicised the civil service. Professional civil servants have been replaced by military officers as Permanent Secretaries, heads of departments, statutory board members and directors.
Cultural nepotism is reportedly quite pervasive.
Many of those appointed to senior positions do not possess the minimum qualification requirements for the posts.
The situation has been made even worse with the imposition of the regime’s 2013 Constitution which now requires the agreement of the Minister on such matters as appointments, promotions, discipline and dismissal of all staff.
This extends even further to requiring the Minister’s approval for determining employment conditions, qualification requirements for appointments, and the process to be followed for appointments etc.
The role of the Public Service Commission has been reduced to just appointing, removing or taking disciplinary action against Permanent Secretaries, again with the approval of the Prime Minister.
The well established convention requiring complete independence from political influence in the appointment of persons to independent constitutional offices has been completely wiped out under the 2013 Constitution. The Constitutional Offices Commission (COC) which is responsible for advising the President on such appointments is to be chaired by the Prime Minister, with three other government nominees as members. Only two of the six-member Commission will be from the Opposition.
Civil servants have lost their trade union rights under the State Services Decree which removed the Public Service Appeals Board and terminated all cases before it; and the Employment Relations (Amendment) Decree 21 of 2011.
Their permanent employment status has been removed and replaced with short-term individual employment contracts.
This means the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants can be changed to their detriment by the State.
They or their unions cannot do anything about it. They no longer enjoy security of employment. They have lost all employment benefits negotiated by their unions over the years.
Appointment and promotions of civil servants are now decided by Permanent Secretaries without any right of appeal.
There is little transparency in the process. Consequently, many deserving candidates are overlooked while the handpicked obtain promotions.
The retirement age of civil servants was reduced to 55. As a result, some 2500 of them had their working lives shortened by five years with consequential loss of income.
This harsh measure placed many of them in great financial difficulty as they struggled to meet their outstanding financial commitments.
n Labour will reverse all these negative developments. A Labour government will restore permanency of employment and appeal rights on promotions, disciplinary penalties and transfers. Retirement age will be moved back to 60.
n Labour will fully restore the trade union rights of the public sector unions.
n Labour will commission a pay review exercise to correct anomalies in the pay structure of civil servants arising from the outlandish increases awarded to permanent secretaries.
n Labour will over time restore overall racial parity in the composition of the public service, a requirement of the 1970, 1990 and 1997 Constitutions which had been largely ignored since the 1987 coups.
n Labour will reshape the civil service culture to mould it into a cohesive, result-oriented performance-based institution. Priority will be given to expertise and capacity building of locals to reduce dependence on expatriates.

n The opinions expressed in this column are those of the Fiji Labour Party. They are published by the Fiji Sun to enhance free and open debate ahead of the general elections.
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