Fiji unions say govt pandering to business over minimum wage
Fiji unions say the government is pandering to business interests in setting a minimum wage which will not help workers out of poverty.
Trade unions in Fiji are saying the government has pandered to business interests in setting a national minimum wage which will not help workers out of poverty.
Last week the government set the country's minimum wage at US$1.05 an hour, 17 cents less than the rate recommended by an independent consultant.
The government says it's a measured approach which helps workers while protecting business, but unions say it does nothing to address poverty.
Christopher Gilbert filed this report.
The National University of Fiji's dean of business Mahandra Reddy proposed two options for the minimum wage. In Fijian dollars, he initially suggested $2.32 an hour but, after consultation with small and medium business groups, pulled back his recommendation to $2.00 an hour. The government has elected for the lower option. The labour minister, Jone Usamate, says $2.00 is an appropriate rate to look after low wage workers while protecting jobs.
"Some of these wages at the moment are at about $1.50 an hour. So, to jump from $1.50 to $2.32 would be a very large jump. You don't want to make it too high or it might lead to job losses."
The former chair of the Fijian Wages Council, Father Kevin Barr, says the government is trying to protect business interests, not workers.
"That's an argument that has been brought up for a long time against all wage increases by the employers federations. Many of them are protecting their own interests, not the interests of small business, as an excuse for wanting wages to be kept low."
Fr Barr says the new minimum 45 hours weekly wage of $90.00 is less than half of the poverty line threshold of $187. But the consultant, Mahandra Reddy, says that logic is flawed, because the $187 poverty threshold is based on the living costs of household of two adults and two children.
Mahandra Reddy: Don't compare an individual's income with a housal income. $187 for a four member household. If you take $2.00, 45 hours, which is 90 dollars a week, times two adults, that's $180 a week.
Chris Gilbert: So both adults in the house need to be working?
MR: The poverty line income that you've quoted is based on two working adults and two dependent children.
The general secretary of the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions, Attar Singh, says the small and medium enterprise groups shouldn't have been consulted. He says the employers they represent are already well unionised, and may try to use the minimum wage as an excuse to lower wages.
"Most of the employers covered by their organisation are already covered by either trade union, unionised agreement rates, or covered by other minimum wages councils. So it's obvious from that they're trying to drive their own workers wages down."
Mr Singh says a national minimum wage is a poor model for Fiji, which should have a minimum wage based on the conditions from industry to industry.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: