Analysis

UniFiji Could Face Compensation Claim As Battle Over Retirement Age Of 65 Years Escalates

Irate University of Fiji’s senior academics over 65 years old could claim for compensation that is expected to run into millions if they are forcibly retired.They have formed a group called Laureate Brigade to fight for their cause.
25 Feb 2020 13:40
UniFiji Could Face Compensation Claim As Battle Over Retirement Age Of 65 Years Escalates
Vice Chancellor Professor Sushila Chang.

Irate University of Fiji’s senior academics over 65 years old could claim for compensation that is expected to run into millions if they are forcibly retired.

They have formed a group called Laureate Brigade to fight for their cause.

Their response to an announcement by the Vice Chancellor Professor Sushila Chang has escalated the dispute.

In a bulletin to all staff members late on Sunday, Ms Chang said: “As for the retirement policy discussed at the Staff/HR Policy Staff Consultation meetings, we had discussed this entry into our policies at Saweni and Samabula.

“Retirement age of 65 is not new in Fiji as other academic institutions have implemented this, one as far back as 2013, I am told.

“With the exception of a small minority there were no objections to this during the staff consultation meetings. Like the other academic institutions, we also have vested interest.

“As discussed at our staff consultation discussions, we will definitely re-employ staff who are above the retirement age as long as they are willing, and able to contribute.”

In a similar announcement on Saturday to the University of Fiji Council, the wording of Professor Chang’s message on “re-employment” was different… staff who continue to contribute to the university and who are of retirement age can of course be re-employed,” showing that the university will decide who over the age of 65 it will re-employ.

The group plans to seek compensation from the council, which is the employer and the owners of the University, the Arya Prahinidhi Sabha (APS), for allegedly breaching their contracts of employment and the University of Fiji Act both of which contain no retirement age.

In an emergency meeting at a secret location, the Laureate Brigade met to map out a strategy for seeking compensation from the council for the abrupt end of their contracts as announced by Professor Chang in her bulletin to all staff. Senior staff members said they were shocked at the way the message was sent out late on Sunday night, following a similar announcement to the council the day before.

Staff members

“Weekends are sacrosanct to us, and for the Vice Chancellor to send out such a message that affects our families and livelihood was shocking in the extreme.

“It showed that some expatriates, who hold top positions in Fiji, do not have the cultural sensitivity required for such positions,” said a senior staff member, who preferred to remain anonymous in case of retaliation from his employer, the council.

Another senior academic said the Laureate Brigade was formed to challenge the ageism in the VC’s statement to all staff.

“We are the guardians of the knowledge-based society that the Fijian Government is trying to create,” the staff members who has also chose to remain anonymous said.

“As senior academics with expertise in research and teaching generations of students in Fiji we are in our prime and to be suddenly told in the middle of the night that the university’s new retirement policy, which selectively will decide on who will be re-employed is a breach of the good faith relationship between the council and the staff of the university.

“People know that the arbitrary re-employment statement means only the VC’s favourites over 65 will be re-employed.”

Toxic competition

The Laureate Brigade members claim Professor Chang has introduced the toxic competition and ill-will among staff, upsetting everyone on the campuses.

They say they are happy to depart from the University as long as they are compensated to the end of their current contracts. Those whose contracts are due for renewal in 2020 will claim a settlement figure.

“Our employment contracts all state that they will be renewed subject to satisfactory performance, and the new age retirement policy will breach this part of our contract for which we seek compensation,” said another senior staff member, who is not an academic.

The Laureate Brigade is today reporting the dispute to the Staff Association of the University of Fiji (SAUF) to the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission and to their lawyers for individual claims of compensation from the council. In 2018, SAUF had obtained an injunction against the university for its ‘clock-in clock-out’ policy.

The Laureate Brigade believes that yet another injunction is likely as the retirement policy was announced by Professor Chang without due process and the council has not denied that such a policy will be implemented.

A senior academic said the council was their employer and since the chairperson of the council had not said anything in response to the Vice Chancellor’s policy, the staff could assume that the council agreed with it.

The university has a significant number of staff members over the age of 65, so its immediate problem will be gaps in teaching with academics departing. Students will be affected most of all.

In addition, the amount of compensation claimed from those forcibly retired is expected to run into the millions.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

Fiji Sun Instagram
Fiji Plus
Subscribe-to-Newspaper