Fiji Times

SUVA. Fiji (Sept. 21) – The Employment Relations Bill is a significant piece of legislation as it touches on every individual's effort to earn a decent living.

The debate over this Bill, which features provisions that will force certain employers to humanise work conditions, has been raging for some time.

The need for revised industrial relations is unquestionable given that existing laws, majority of which were introduced during the Colonial days, are simply archaic, inappropriate and inhibiting rather than enabling.

The question is whether it should be enacted in its present form amidst the various concerns raised, not only by employers, but also by unionists and non-government organisations.

Chief among these concerns would be the legality of enacting the Bill given that the legality of this interim administration is yet to be determined by the courts.

What then is the logic in introducing these new laws, which will require employers, unions and workers to readjust, at the risk of having to revert to the status quo. If this happens, it would be a colossal waste of time and resources.

There's also the concern raised by unionists who, while they applaud the provisions for a mediation service, an employment relations tribunal and an employment relations court to foster a proactive rather than a confrontational system of resolution, are rightly wary of the revision to the clause on forming a union. Does this clause ultimately weaken workers chances at successful collective bargaining? It is an issue that needs further discussion.

The employers are probably the Bill's fiercest opponents for obvious reasons. Their concerns range from the maternity provisions to sick leave conditions and redundancy packages issues that directly affect their profit margin.

The argument that they did not have enough time is unacceptable, particularly for big businesses whose multi-million dollar turnovers easily afford them the capacity to effect the necessary adjustments.

But it differs for small businesses, micro-enterprises and homes that employ one or a handful of workers. They will certainly need time to adjust to the proposed standards of work conditions.

These standards are long overdue as there are many workers like housegirls, nannies, cooks and gardeners, who get as [little] as FJ$20 to FJ$30 [US$12.65 to US$19] for a whole week of hard labour. It is because of such injustices that the ER Bill is needed. However, it must be done in a legitimate manner.

What the State should do now is conduct the remaining ground work so that the kinks, at least most of them, are ironed out before the next government is elected. This should include increasing the public's awareness on how the proposed laws will affect them. After all, good laws are nothing if the people do not know its existence and how it affects their lives.

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