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By John Kamea

SUVA, Fiji (April 15, 1998 - Fiji Times/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka yesterday described union strike threats over the recent wage order as irresponsible, the Fiji Times reported today.

The Prime Minister called on unions to consider alternatives.

He said a strike would cause suffering.

Mr. Rabuka said government was still open to dialogue.

"The wage order is there for the good of all and to make devaluation meaningful. It will also be the subject to talks . . .between the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Labor and unions," Mr. Rabuka.

Talks today will explain to employers and trade unions why government introduced the order. It will hear views from them.

"If unions go on strike, it will be a very irresponsible strike. It will show that they don't know the background of why we had to have the wage order (limiting raises to three percent)," Mr. Rabuka said.

"A strike will bring suffering to all of us. But I hope that unions and their leaders will consider other alternatives; negotiate settlements and so on.

"Our devaluation would be meaningless if we do not consider the follow-up actions and one of them is the restriction on wage increases."

Mr. Rabuka assured unions that the government would not go back on its word.

"They will get what government has given to them, in return for a three-year industrial action-free relationship," he said.

"So the public service unions should not have anything to worry about. It's the private sector unions that are working against government's wage order guidelines."

On engaging the military in the public service in the event of a strike, Mr. Rabuka said this would not happen.

"I don't think we have to go into that. The military (is) not trained for public service work."

Mr. Rabuka said cabinet agreed on the order and saw it as a move which was beneficial for the country.

He said that cabinet allowed the Finance Minister to go back and talk to the unions and employers.

"I think one will have to consider what is in the interest of the country as a whole. And we believe this wage order is in accordance with government policies.

"Our 20 per cent devaluation, in isolation, looks big, but when you look at the region and other economies that effect it, their devaluation and problems they have had, our devaluation is more fair," Mr. Rabuka said.

Meanwhile, the Fiji Trades Union Congress has indicated it will go ahead with its protest next Thursday. Congress General Secretary Pratap Chand said the one-day protest would be the first step towards a strike.

Title -- 1293 POLITICS: Rabuka hits out at Fiji unions Date -- 15 April 1998 Byline -- John Kamea Origin -- Pasifik Nius Source -- Fiji Times, 15/4/98 Copyright -- Fiji Times Status – Unabridged

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