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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 5) – The draft of a new Employment Relations Bill for Tonga will be presented to Cabinet this month with the aim of enacting it later this year, Tonga's Minister for Labour, Commerce and Industries, Dr. Feleti Sevele, said yesterday.

Since the strike by Tonga's civil servants last year, Feleti said that, "we were left in a vacuum", and Cabinet had seen the need for Employment Relations legislation for Tonga.

Feleti said that in his capacity as the Minister of Labour he took it on. He visited Fiji last year and had discussions with the Fijian Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Productivity, Hon. Kenneth Zinck.

He said that Fiji is currently going through the "Calling for Written Submissions from the Public" stage of labor legislation, and their intention is to have the Bill tabled, debated and enacted by parliament early this year.

Feleti said that Tonga is adopting the Fijian Bill, which is based on their long history of industrial relations disputes, trade unionism and on the New Zealand situation. He said that the Tongan Cabinet had approved in principal for Tonga to adopt the Fijian Employment Relations Bill.

"Our staff have been working on its since last year, and it is now ready to be presented to Cabinet, to Crown Law, then for wide consultation within government and all public institutions, and employees, private sector employers and employees, and members of Parliament, with the aim of having the Bill tabled, discussed and enacted during the 2006 Parliament session. The whole idea of this is to protect both the employees and the employers, the government and the public. It covers everybody," he said

Feleti said that it was interesting to compare some of the employment privileges between the Fijian and Tongan civil services. The annual vacation leave for Fijians was 10 days, comparing with Tonga's 36 days. Fijian sick leave of 10 to12 days, whereas for Tongans it is 42 days. Casual leave for Tongan civil servants is seven days, whereas a Fijian bereavement leave is for only three days.

This means Tonga's civil servants have access to paid leave totaling 85 days a year, compared to Fiji civil servants who have access to paid leave totaling 25 days a year.

"You look at it, it is disproportionate," said Feleti.

January 6, 2006

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