NEWS

Changes To Employment Relations Act May Be Coming

The right to strike for workers who form the Essential National Industries (ENI) and changes to the Employment Relations Act, could be on the horizon. Over the last two days,
18 Oct 2019 11:31
Changes To Employment Relations Act May Be Coming
Ministry of Employment Permanent Secretary during Essential National Industries (ENI) workshop at Novotel on October 17, 2019. Photo: Ronald Kumar.

The right to strike for workers who form the Essential National Industries (ENI) and changes to the Employment Relations Act, could be on the horizon.

Over the last two days, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) mediated discussions between the Government, employers and unions on the issue of the right to strike, the ENI and changes to the employment law.

In 2015, an amendment to the Employment Relations Act meant that all Government workers were listed under the Essential National Industries (ENI).

Under the ENI, services essential to the proper functioning of the nation such as security and health can be listed. This is done to ensure smooth operations in the essential services for the public without having strikes or labour related upheavals.

Once the industries are listed under the ENI, they do not have a right to strike. This also meant all pre-existing collective agreements were terminated and unions played no or very little roles.

This matter was then taken up to the ILO by the unions in Fiji in 2016. This action to include the majority of the civil service in the ENI was frowned upon by the international community.

ILO’s role in the talks

Karen Curtis, ILO’s Chief of the Freedom of Association Branch under the International Labour Standards Department, said there were nine points agreed to in a joint implementation report by the tripartite which followed the meeting in 2016.

“At the time of the signing in 2016, seven of the points had pretty much finalised including making some changes to the Employment Relations Act.

“There are two points or agreements that remain to be addressed, but they are broad points. One was looking at all the articles in the ERP and there were many as to where the disagreements were either because the ILO had identified some violations or because the social partnership (employers and unions) wanted a different framework.”

Ms Curtis said her presence here was to facilitate the talks between the Government and the social partnership discussions about the Essential National Industries.

“I am here to see if they could come to a common vision about how to reduce that so generally the right to strike for workers could be fully assured,” she said.

“Knowing that, this is not about promoting strikes, but just allowing this right. I think something that is really positive is that Government and the social partners have agreed to an action plan with a timeline.

“The broader aspects of the ERP need more time, but perhaps they can work on this before that.”

Ms Curtis said the ideal outcome of the talks would be coming to a consensus on the issues of the changes needed in the Employment Relations Act and allowing workers the right to strike.

“Ideally, if the Government was able to put forward the amendment to Parliament for adoption, this would very much be helpful to at least showing the international community that the steps that have been requested have been taken.”

Talks positive: Cawaru

Permanent Secretary for Employment Relations Osea Cawaru said the talks were quite positive.

He said the issues were discussed with a much more open mind and all views on the current laws considered.

He said the final paper on the outcome of the meeting would be put forward to Cabinet.

Fiji Teachers Union general secretary said it was important this issue was resolved. He said following the 2015 amendment, teachers also came under the ENI.

He said the right to collective bargaining and protest has to be recognised. He said the meeting so far had been positive.

Ms Curtis said ENI concept was not new, but countries normally listed the essential services, which included health and security.

She said there was a line between what was essential and what was important.

Ms Curtis highlighted that ILO would not be placing sanctions on Fiji amid failure to honour the agreed points.

She said this was already incorporated in international trade agreements that Fiji was signatory to.

The meeting lasted for two days. It will now be seen if there are changes in the Employment Relations Act to follow and if the right to strike is given to workers who were included in the ENI after 2015.

If the latter happens, then the number of industries in the ENI are sure to drop.

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

Feedback: shalveen.chand@fijisun.com.fj

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