Analysis: Reality Test Best Way To Go To Determine Employment Issues

One of the issues that will pop up on the campaign trail is the civil service reforms as it relates to industrial relations. The most contentious issue in this debate
26 Jul 2018 11:13
Analysis: Reality Test Best Way  To Go To Determine  Employment Issues

One of the issues that will pop up on the campaign trail is the civil service reforms as it relates to industrial relations.

The most contentious issue in this debate is contract – that civil servants will go under contract.

The old system of a collective employment agreement is being phased out.

Trade unions and opposition parties strongly oppose the contract system even though this is the way many countries are moving to bring efficiency to their civil service.

They have their own reasons. Trade unions reject the contract system because it allows the Public Service Commission to deal with civil servants directly.

Under the old system the union, the Fiji Public Service Association (FPSA), represents the civil servants in pay and work conditions negotiations.

Core Components

Salary increases were based on the outcome of negotiations over the union’s log of claims between the FPSA and the PSC.

They usually focused on Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA).

Whatever agreement was reached it was awarded across the board. Under the reforms, salary increases and promotions will be based on merit.

This is the core component of contracts that is common throughout many countries that have adopted the merit system.

It is designed to ensure fair and open recruitment and competition and employment practices that are free of political influence or other outside pressures.

Civil servants can cut ties with the FPSA and negotiate directly with the employer.

That mechanism is open and if they have any grievances there are transparent procedures and processes they can follow.

Civil servants can hire a lawyer to represent them or engage the FPSA to speak on their behalf. If they are still not satisfied with the outcome they can take the Government or the relevant ministry to the Employment Court.

More and more employment cases are now going to court.

Currently, the Employment Court is hearing a job evaluation case where the Fiji Teachers Union is representing the teachers against the Ministry of Education.

All civil servants have these options available.

An Advocate

The unions can still play a role in the case of the teachers. If the civil servants want an advocate to help them negotiate their contract they choose a lawyer or a union.

They also have the freedom to sever union ties and cease paying their union membership fees.

This is understood to be the FPSA’s biggest worry – losing union members. If civil servants are happy they will see no point in continuing their union membership.

That is why the FPSA and the FTU are opposing the introduction of contracts.

It could weaken their strength and solidarity.

It has been proved in many countries including New Zealand and Australia that contracts and a merit system attract the best qualified and skilled workers.

It also inspires existing civil servants to seek more training and qualification to be able to perform better.

Internally it will encourage professionalism and efficiency. Overall, it will lift performance and improve service delivery for the benefit of the people.

Ultimate Goal

That should be the ultimate goal of every Government.

Those of us who have witnessed the transition from the old system to the new regime will agree that the reforms have been long overdue.

The annual Auditor-General’s reports over the years usually highlight the need to tighten and improve Government activities and spending.

The lack of transparency and accountability had contributed to the poor governance.

The reforms should solve many of these problems.

Civil servants will be promoted on merit, not on the basis of seniority.

They don’t have to wait for those above them to retire or resign before they can move up and fill those vacant positions.

They will be rewarded for performing exceptionally well.

They will know from day one that they need to perform and get the right qualifications if they want to move up the promotional ladder.

The reforms will also remove the notion that once you are recruited your job is set for life.

As long as you report in at 8am and go home at 4.30pm, your job is secure for the rest of your working career.

That’s what the unions and some of the Opposition parties want to perpetuate.

But, is it good for the Government, the country and the people?

Of course not. We all know that many people had complained about the standard of Government service before the reforms.

Since the reforms started, there has been a noticeable rise in the standard of service delivery.

Tripartite Forum

On the industrial relations front some political parties are advocating for strengthening of the tripartite forum (employers, unions and Government) to deal with employment issues.

The concept is not new. It was used in the 1980s by the late Rate Sir Kamisese Mara’s Alliance Government. While it was a novel way of resolving disputes, it failed to achieve the desired outcome in many instances.

In fact, the 1980s saw some of the most turbulent periods on the industrial relations front in Fiji’s history.

They gave rise to a labour movement under the banner of the Fiji Trades Union Congress that eventually took its struggle to the political arena.

The result was the formation of the Fiji Labour Party.

Today, the tripartite concept can still work provided there is a genuine commitment to find a solution that benefits all the stakeholders.

The recent walkout by the unions during talks was not a good sign.

Whether they deal with contracts, national minimum wage or another employment matter, the best way to approach the issue is to use the reality test.

Is what we are going to agree on realistic?

”TOMORROW: Health – Are we heading in the right direction?”

Feedback:  nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj


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