FIJI COLA INCREASE PUTS GOVERNMENT IN BIND

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Nov. 2) – The Fiji Government will have to fork out an extra FJ$12 million (US$7 million) to pay for the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for civil servants.

That will take the new COLA bill to FJ$42 million (US$24.6 million).

Public Service Commission chief executive officer Anare Jale disclosed the revised figure yesterday.

The increase in the total payments is the result of an agreement signed between the Public Service Commission and the Fiji Public Service Association last year, when the FJ$30 million (US$17.6 million) case was pending before the permanent arbitrator.

The agreement was for a two percent increase to civil servants' pay and was totally different from the earlier agreement between the two parties.

The association said the new agreement was for the 2005 COLA payments and differed from the four percent claim based on 2003 and 2004 COLA payments.

The matter was raised with the Public Service Commission late last month by the association, which asked the Government to keep to its word when it signed the agreement.

However, Mr. Jale said the Government was still considering its options on how the FJ$42 million (US$24.6 million) COLA payment would affect its budget.

"The Government is still discussing this and considering how it will proceed with the payments," he said.

One of its options is to appeal against the award.

"The Government will consider appealing the decision by the permanent arbitrator but only on a question of law."

Finance Ministry's chief executive officer Paula Uluinaceva could not be reached for a comment yesterday on where the Government would get the money to pay COLA.

In the absence of an appeal, more than 29,000 civil servants will be paid from this money.

The COLA payment is backdated to January 1, 2004.

Three categories of civil servants are to receive the payment.

In Category A, the tribunal has decided public servants who earn FJ$17,500 (US$10,200) or less receive an increase of FJ$14 (US$8) per week in their pay as COLA.

In Category B, those earning between FJ$17,501 and FJ$35,000 (US$20,500) will receive an increase of FJ$10 (US$5) per week COLA.

And in Category C, those earning above $35,001 will receive an increase of FJ$7 (US$4) per week as COLA.

The Government maintains it wants civil servants to be rewarded on performance through the Performance Management System (PMS) rather than COLA.

The PMS system was adopted by Government in 2003 after a reform of the civil service.

Cabinet is expected to meet next week to discuss how it will fund the FJ$42 million payout.

Cabinet discussed the COLA payment ruling in its last meeting where the commission submitted options it could take to pay the funds.

The calculations were based on a ruling the Permanent Arbitrator, William Calanchini, made.

Mr. Calanchini departed from the practice of percentage rises and instead gave monetary increases for each week of service.

The country's 29,000 civil service expect to receive the COLA payment in time for Christmas.

November 3, 2005

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com.

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