The changes were announced this week and mean more than 90 percent of workers with the Fiji Roads Authority will lose their jobs. The government says foreign contractors will be able to rebuild roads and bring new expertise to the islands, but TUC president Daniel Urai has labelled the decision, "pathetic".
Presenter: Corinne Podger
Speaker: Daniel Urai, president, Fiji Trade Union Congress
URAI: For the Fiji Trades Union Congress, the workers of this country, particularly those that are affected really indicate the plight of workers that this current regime have. Exactly unfair, they could have done a better decision than trying to release 1,000 workers from their job.
PODGER: Were people given adequate warning about this?
URAI: In terms of warning, that was not given to people. There was a lot of media coverage. In terms of the actual workers being informed collectively, that was not done.
PODGER: We understand that about 320 people were considered temporary workers and they won't get any severance payment, but around 720 permanent staff will get a week's pay for every year that they've worked. What's your view on the nature of the compensation that's being offered?
URAI: The nature of compensation is pathetic. Prior to this, there was some agreement between the government and workers of this country, that a compensation was sitting around three months pay and two weeks in each year of service. Unfortunately, this regime has removed that and they have put in that one week for each year of service and in a country like Fiji, unemployment is high. This contributes further into the hardship that workers face in this country.
PODGER: It is obviously quite a worry coming so close to Christmas. But we understand that some workers are likely to be employed again. If they are employed again, are they likely to be back on the same wages that they were on before?
URAI: We regret about those things being said, that some of these workers will be employed again. But we know, none of these workers will receive the same pay that they were receiving currently in their job with the Ministry. All these workers will receive pay at a lesser rate than hourly pay. Conditions will be different. It will not be the same. It will not be better, it will be worse. Unfortunately, this is what the workers have got to face here.
PODGER: What do you know about the private contractors who are slated to take over this work?
URAI: We are currently not very clear on the private contractors, but we understand that the regime has been dealing a lot with Chinese contractors and if they are indeed Chinese contractors, then the workers are in for one of the worst deals that they'll be having if they will be called back to employment on projects that they're working on.
PODGER: The Fiji Roads Authority Daniel was recently placed under the auspices of the Prime Minister's office. Is that significant in your view in light of the latest developments?
URAI: Yes, initially it was thought that when this department falls under the office of the Prime Minister, it will be the Prime Minister's role to look after the interest of workers. Unfortunately, the truth has not come out. It was is merely done put under the Prime Minister's office so they can contract out all roads, all government road workers and it's always as experienced everywhere in Fiji, a contractor is paid less than what they receive and conditions are pathetic.
PODGER: Separate to this issue, the International Labour Organisation has put a report out overnight criticising Fiji for blocking an investigation into allegations of assault and harassment against trade union leaders and members. The ILO wants the Fiji government to let their investigator back into Fiji. What can you tell us about those allegations and the ILO investigation?
URAI: The allegations that were given to the ILO by the unions from Fiji are all true. The workers from this country and indeed the Fiji Trade Union Congress had wanted an independent team to investigate the complaints. It's unfortunate that the team that initially came was sent away by the government of Fiji. And various excuses were given. If this regime is honest on workers and workers rights, then it should allow the decision of the ILO to send immediately an independent body to look into the issues that were raised by workers in this country.