Opposition Leaders Say Fiji Workers Deserve A 'Living Wage'

Wages don't reach current poverty level set at $97 per week

By Avinesh Gopal

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, June 8, 2017) – National Federation Party leader Professor Biman Prasad and Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry believe Fijians need a "living wage".

Prof Prasad raised the issue at the party's meeting in Lautoka at the weekend.

Mr Chaudhry says it is widely accepted that low wages is the root cause of poverty in the country among working class families.

"It is estimated that some 60 per cent of those in full-time employment are earning wages below the basic needs poverty line (BNPL) currently set at $203 [US$97] a week. These employees are all in the private sector," he said.

"Government's own survey shows that those in the lower wage group are spending less than $40 [US$19] a week on food for their families.

"This is absolutely shocking. What can a family of five buy for $40 a week except for the base essentials?

"A living wage pegged to the cost of living and one that meets the basic needs of our workers must be a priority for any caring government."

Mr Chaudhry said it was not correct to suggest that the Government has brought down working poverty from 35 per cent to 11 per cent as Employment Minister Jone Usamate stated in this newspaper a week ago.

"The bottom line is that 60 per cent of our low income earners are receiving wages below the poverty line and that most of them have difficulty spending $40 a week on food for their families."

He said the National Minimum Wage (NMW) of $2.68 [US$1.29] an hour was not the answer to the country's problem of tackling poverty.

"We need to raise the national minimum wage rate above starvation wages to a level where a worker is able to meet the basic needs of his family and still be able to save a little.

"What then is a living wage for our workers? This is the crux of the matter."

Mr Chaudhry said the NMW should not become a subject of political propaganda in the lead up to the 2018 election, saying a negotiated NMW should have a bearing on the basic poverty line.

He said an interim solution to the impasse may be to raise NMW to $3.50 [US$1.68] per hour to give immediate relief to workers in this category.

The NFP maintains Fiji needs a "living wage".

"Our 'living wage' suite of measures is for a minimum of $200/week [US$96] or $5/hour [US$2.40] net for those on a minimum wage," said Prof Prasad.

"These are not ideas just made up on a whim. We have analysed the trends and the figures and it is very, very possible.

"Grant the NFP the social contract to make it happen, and we will.

"The current minimum wage rate of $2.32 [US$1.11] an hour is simply insufficient for a livelihood of a family of four.

"This rate means our workers on minimum wage earn $104.40 [US$50.07] for a 45 hour working week. Even if the wage rate is increased to $2.68, [US$1.29] it will be $120.60 [US$57.84]," said Prof Prasad.

Fiji Times Online.
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