Government Reforms Drop Working Poverty In Fiji

Attributed in part to commitment to 'social wages' where income for living is determined by basis of citizenship rather than employment

By Vishaal Kumar

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 29, 2017) – Government through its reforms, particularly payment of social wages to Fijians, has reduced working poverty from 34.8 per cent to 11 per cent, says Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations Minister Jone Usamate.

Mr Usamate said this reduction was made possible through Government's efforts regarding social wages.

Working poverty is defined as working people living under the poverty line, while social wages is the right to enough income for living as determined by basis of citizenship rather than employment.

"Social wages is one way in which people are assisted especially the most marginalised people," Mr Usamate said.

"Social wages are those things like free bus fare, free medicine, subsidizing of your electricity, subsidizing of water. It is one way in assisting people who are most marginalized.

"So when you are calculating the income of marginalised people, you have to take into the account the social wages. The kind of things the Government does to assist the poor."

During a recent public consultations of the National Minimum Wage and Wage Regulations Consultant Professor Partha Ganopadhyay had said social wages was the most effective way in reducing working poverty in the country.

Prof. Gangopadhyay said a recent survey he conducted found that social wages provided by the Fijian Government has improved the quality of life for working people in Fiji.

"In other words, from our sampled workers, we highlight that social wages have reduced working poverty in Fiji by nearly 70 per cent than it could have been," Prof. Gangopadhyay said.

He said there are five spending categories that reduce the cost of living for the Fijian working population. These are spending on social development, public education, public health, housing and local amenities and social assistance.

Prof. Gangopadhyay said working poverty was very high in the informal sector.

However, Employment Ministry Shadow Minister Ratu Sela Nanovo said the minimum wage rate of $2.32 is not economically viable because people are still living below the poverty line.

"The minimum wage rate of $2.32 that was there and people are still living in poverty. Even though it has been increased to $2.68, which is still under the poverty line," Ratu Sela said .

"What we have been pressing for if it is possible to increase minimum wage to be targeted at least at $4. "

Meanwhile, National Federation Party leader and member of Opposition Professor Biman Prasad thinks other wise.

"The wage consultation seems to be looking at one side of the story. The real issue facing the working class in the country is that they don't have a living wage," Prof Prasad said.

"We should stop talking about minimum wages which is already set up at a ridiculous level at $2.32 and the proposed minimum wage remains ridiculous. To have an effective wage policy, we need to look at the concept living wages. Living wages means a weekly or monthly wage rate that considerate to the cost of living of the families."

He said the reality is that working families in the country are struggling to make ends meet.

Fiji Times Online.
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