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EDITORIAL: Bill Of Hope For Industrial Relations Harmony

A Bill to amend the Employment Relations Promulgation 2007 and related issues restores workers’ rights and gives them more choices. It was introduced in Parliament last week by the Government.
29 May 2015 09:22
EDITORIAL: Bill Of Hope For Industrial Relations Harmony

A Bill to amend the Employment Relations Promulgation 2007 and related issues restores workers’ rights and gives them more choices.

It was introduced in Parliament last week by the Government.

A raft of changes has been proposed that will bring back workers’ rights to collective bargaining and industrial action. The workers include those in essential industries and non-essential industries.

The bill also proposes bargaining units in workplaces. This will allow those who are not unionized to join these bargaining units and be able engage employers in negotiating better pay and working conditions.

This is a significant change and a positive one too because it give all workers equal rights whether they are members of a union or not. It is hoped that the trade unions would view this change in the light of the fact that a majority of workers in Fiji are not unionized.

That right should also be extended to workplaces where trade unions exist and represent workers. Workers should be able to choose whether they should join a trade union or go with the proposed Bargaining Units. If a worker is not happy with the way a trade union is looking after his or her interests, he or she should be free to join the Bargaining Unit.

The Bill says a Bargaining Unit “shall be deemed to be a trade union” and “shall be entitled to engage in collective bargaining for the workers who are part of the Bargaining Unit and to lodge trade disputes to the Arbitration Court on behalf of those workers.”

It says if a majority of the workers in a Bargaining Unit formed or registered decide, through secret ballot, to join a trade union established under this Promulgation, then the Bargaining Unit shall cease to exist and the workers shall be represented by that trade union.

But if 25 per cent of workers employed by the same employer in an essential service and industry decide, through secret ballot, to form a Bargaining Unit, then the Bargaining Unit, after a secret ballot, shall inform the Arbitration Court of the intention by those workers to form a Bargaining Unit.

The Bargaining Unit shall provide the Arbitration Court with the names of those workers who have chosen to part of that unit. The Arbitration Court shall then register the Bargaining Unit and its officers selected by the workers as executives, representatives and members.

The Bargaining Unit can then represent its members in collective bargaining and to lodge trade disputes to the Arbitration Court.

The other issue that will generate some discussion is the extension of the list of companies registered under the existing Essential Industry and Services decree. At the moment, the banking and hotel industries are not on the list.

One of the positive developments in all these is that ERAB (Employment Relations and Advsiory Board) has been meeting after a lapse of many months during the standoff between the Government and the Fiji Trades Union Congress. Progress has been noted because a spirit of good faith exists. There is no illusion that Government, employers and trade union want to put Fiji first because if the economy improves, it benefits everyone. The Bill, therefore, is a Bill of Hope for everyone.

 

 



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