A-G Corrects The Unions

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum hopes commonsense will prevail among trade unions, whose “narrow mindedness is affecting the country”. Speaking about the impasse that continues between Government and trade unions, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum
27 Jun 2015 10:44
A-G Corrects The Unions

Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum hopes commonsense will prevail among trade unions, whose “narrow mindedness is affecting the country”.

Speaking about the impasse that continues between Government and trade unions, Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Government had already complied with core conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

The focus:

“We have complied with the ILO convention in terms of freedom of association, so for example, all of you here working for a company and if you decided to go and join a trade union that may be based outside your organisation with a secretariat outside your company, you can do that.

But if all of you decide and say we don’t want to do that but we will form our own collective bargaining unit, you can.

“In the amendment it says if you form your own bargaining unit, you know, in house union if you like, you still deemed to be a trade union. The Act, actually the amendment, allows you to do that; allows you to be deemed to be a trade union. Giving people the freedom to join the union outside or form your own within.

“The union’s objective to it? They are saying you should not have the right to form your own collective bargaining unit within your organisation, you must only join the guys outside. That in itself is containing your freedom; you should have the freedom whether to join them or not to join them. So on that basis we are saying we are compliant with freedom of association.

Collective bargaining:

“The other issue was on collective bargaining, it is allowed, you can all go and have a discussion and have an independent process. So if you fall within the essential industries you can actually have a collective agreement if you have a dispute between the employer and the employee you go to mediation if it doesn’t work out than you go to a arbitration tribunal that’s merely created as proposed. Under the amendment bill now that would be something similar to what we had in the 1970s and 80s and in which you have the president of the tribunal.

“You have the panel or representatives from the employees and the panel from the employers one or two each are chosen whatever number it is it goes to the tribunal and than any dispute you have you come and argue the case before the tribunal and they give the ruling and that’s it whatever decision made you comply with it.

“That’s essentially what they do in Singapore and Singapore is not dragged before the ILO saying that they’ve breached it, so they are the two key issues that have been addressed under the amendment bill. First up if you say these are the complaints, we have now addressed it, we can now have an agreement on that   but obviously they are trying to introduce more issues, for example, they are saying that the list of essential industries is too wide they want it shortened ,they are also saying that there should be a right to strike and indeed a right to strike without notice. What we are saying Fiji is a developing economy – we have natural disasters. We have all these issues and we simply can’t go and have a right to strike without notice.

Essential industries:

“For example in the tourism industry ,we are completely dependent mostly on tourists being brought in by airlines so if pilots suddenly decided to go on strike just before the flight is about to take off what sort of ramifications will that have on the economy, disastrous, your national airline will plummet in terms of reputation. As it is we have some issues when one aircraft gets damaged you see all these consequential delays that bring about a bad reputation so people will choose to fly with another airline or they may say that Fiji is too much of a hassle and connectivity is not good.

“These are the economic realities that people need to realise and that’s what we are saying that even though the list be longer than what they want the fact is that you’ve got all these safe guards built in ,you can have your trade unions you can have your bargaining unit if you want and you have the collective bargaining .

“It’s very simple, you have to put the country first you have to recognize the economics of what we are saying, all those core foundations are now being complied with, we should go to the ILO in November and say we have now complied with this, we should go as a country if there are any other issues we should sit down and resolve that not sort of be bullish about it.

Commission of Inquiry?:

“The other point to note is that the ILO does not give out commissions of inquiry willy nilly there’s only been eight or twelve commissions of enquiries since ILO’s inception and whilst the commissioner of enquiry does not have any legal basis to impose any trade sanctions the unions can sort of use that in particular they’re going to push for it and go to individual countries saying don’t trade with Fiji because there is a commission of enquiry or these things are hanging over their head, that would have a dire affect on jobs in Fiji .

“For example if Coles supermarket   has decided to buy biscuits from Fiji and they be getting a three – four year contract with the local manufacturing company and they get pressurised by the unions from here using the Australian unions they may not buy the biscuits from Fiji, the workers who work in the factory will get affected, the employer who employs them and our foreign exchange so don’t have a commission of enquiry for the sake of it. Don’t try and push for commission of enquiry just because you want to have your very own narrow minded agenda. The reality is that less than thirty per cent of the workforce is unionised in Fiji.

“Majority of the unions or the unionists have actually thrived in being unionists in state owned enterprises or in entities that have state owned funding whether it Fiji Airways, whether its FSC, whether it’s public service, whether its AFL or Fiji Pine.

“There are of course workers who are being exploited in Fiji. But you see a very heavy absence of unions from those areas. It’s hard work for them. There are some unions as well who are doing wonderful work. They have a good relationship with their employees and some of them are in the private sector also, you never hear them on television or see them on television giving an interview in a newspaper or television but they are doing very well.

Unions holding Fiji ransom:

“The final point I would like to make. A number of these unionists who are wanting to hold Fiji to ransom have been involved in political parties themselves. They’ve been leaders of political parties and all of them have been unsuccessful in the elections. Whether they pursue their own political agenda, how we appeal to them is we need to put Fiji first, we need to put the workers first .

“The amendments that have been brought about in fact actually addressed those core ILO convention issues and let’s move along in a collaborative manner rather than sort of trying to hold the axe on our head and drag us in the international forum.”



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