Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (July 31) - The interim Cabinet's refusal yesterday to bend to the Fiji Islands Council of Trade Unions (FICTU) demands come as no surprise. To have done so would have created anarchy to an already chaotic national state of affairs given that it had made far fewer concessions to major public sector unions, namely the Fiji Public Service Association and the Fiji Teachers Union.

FICTU had sought that 1 percent of their pay be restored in December and another 1 percent be restored next March. It had also sought that 10 percent Cost of Living Adjustment as per the Partnership Agreement be restored by December 31, 2009. In return they offered to forego any other log of claims for 2008 and 2009.

These requests may sound steep at first but when you consider the wage rates of most of these unions' members, particularly the unestablished workers, you can understand why a 5 percent cut would hurt so much.

The stalemate reached yesterday means about 20,000 workers will go on strike tomorrow, further crippling the functions of the State machinery which is already strained by the 1,000-plus picketing nurses.

The industrial action is expected to have a much more significant impact given that at least 4,000 teachers and hundreds of workers in the public utilities sector will stay away from work.

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama and his cabinet are obviously confident they will be able to cope. Again, the military and police are expected to play significant roles in ensuring as little disruption as possible.

Parents are advised to inquire whether their children's classes will be affected as a result.

For the disgruntled unions, the situation is expected to test their mettle as the interim regime is adamant there will be no further concessions because it simply cannot afford it.

There is much more at stake for these unions because if they buckle without reaping any satisfactory benefits for their members, they are bound to lose credibility. That they cannot afford because it would challenge their existence.

In the end, all parties will lose some way or the other if this turns out to be a long drawn-out battle. There is still time for talks to try and reach a compromise and avert strike action. This should be exhausted.

Just as the unions should realistically consider the state of the government coffers, the interim regime should also accept that it needs to reciprocate and consider the plight of certain workers' groups separately from the entire civil service.

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