Whose Interest Do The Unionists Stand For?

Whose interests are the unionists representing and to what extent are they willing to go to, to remain relevant. These are pertinent questions that need to be seriously asked given
25 Mar 2019 11:19
Whose Interest Do The Unionists Stand For?
Various union members at the Fijian Teachers Association Hall. Photo: Losirene Lacanivalu

Whose interests are the unionists representing and to what extent are they willing to go to, to remain relevant.

These are pertinent questions that need to be seriously asked given what has been going on over the past week with the air traffic controllers. And if that was not enough, we revealed on Saturday that the main umbrella of the unions is planning a nationwide strike on May 3.

Firstly, the entire issue with the air traffic controllers.

What is the real issue here?

It has since been revealed that in the past five years – from 2013 to 2018 – our controllers on average earned 61 per cent more in gross pay, for 43 per cent less workload in overtime.

The workload reduction was a result of hiring more people.

There were three pay rises and multiple allowance increases in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

What people do not know is that no union played any role in seeking these increases. These increases were given by the management after reviewing the overall performance, profit and other factors.

They were given voluntarily; it was not demanded and given even before anyone raised any complaints.

So where did this leave the unions and unionists? That seems to be a bone of contention with our unionists. They were becoming irrelevant. Employee welfare, pay increases, investment in human resources were all happening without any input from the unions. They were fast losing any bargaining power they held because employees were being taken care of.


Similarly, when drastic pay increments were given to Police officers, to nurses, the implementation of profit sharing by our national carrier where every employee received a portion of the profit they made, all of this happened without any demands from unions and unionists.

Executive chair Faiz Khan also stressed that they know that there are a few people and just a few controllers responsible for this most unfortunate action of strike. Whose interests are they pursuing?

More Government statutory bodies started looking at the concept of profit sharing; bonuses were being given out almost every six to 12 months and not a few hundreds, but in many cases up in thousands of dollars.

So what happens to unions and unionists? They start to lose their relevance. They no longer have any hold over their members.

So they have to pull some kind of stunt to remain relevant. They have to show their members that they still have some sway, some negotiating power. Do they? Doesn’t seem so.

This nationwide strike that this umbrella body is planning, the Fiji Trades Union Congress is yet another attempt to be in the limelight.

Those unionists know very well that Government has started work on the review of Fiji’s 10 sectoral wages that are already above the National Minimum Wage.

These include: printing trades; wholesale and retail trades; hotel and catering trades; garment industry; sawmilling and logging industry; road transport, building and civil and electrical engineering trades; manufacturing industry; mining and quarrying industry; and security services.

And, Government is also working to review the minimum wage rate as well. But, they do not want to pluck a figure out of thin air!

A thorough review is being done and unions are feeling very threatened. They are now in survival mode. They want to fight back and do everything they can to remain relevant.

All these shenanigans are less about their members but more of the fight for survival of unions. They fear losing their relevance.

A real shame.


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