Fiji Political Party Accuses Ministry Of Education Of 'Blackmailing' Staff

Employees forced to sign limited term contracts in exchange for pay increase

By Mere Naleba

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 4, 2017) – The National Federation Party has called the move by the Ministry of Education to have permanent staff members sign five -year contracts before they are eligible for the pay increment as "blackmail".

Party leader Professor Biman Prasad claims the announcement of the increase in salaries comes as an election gimmick to pacify teachers who, he said, had silently suffered for the past several years.

"They have suffered even more so after the 2014 election under the Government's arrogant and ill thought out reforms, which have seriously undermined the teachers' professional, social and economic status," he claimed.

Meanwhile, Fiji Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said Government's move to peg public sector pay increases to the requirement that employees sign a new contract is "straight out coercion".

"They are using strong arm tactics to impose shorter term contracts on civil servants in return for pay increases," he claimed.

"This is not only unethical but also unlawful. Employers are bound by the employment contracts of their employees.

"They cannot just arbitrarily terminate existing contracts or force a change to newer contracts to the disadvantage of the employees."

Mr Chaudhry said employment contracts fell under the purview of the Employment Relations Act and proper procedures must be followed under the collective bargaining provisions of the Act for any changes to be made to these contracts.

"In any case, the announced pay increase for the civil service, effective from August 1, 2017, is a job evaluation award and should bear no relevance to an employee's tenure of employment."

He said the public service unions must strongly resist this move and advise their members not to sign up.

"Quite apart from the pay issue, it has long term implications for security of employment and the right of the employee to be treated fairly and in accordance with the law.

"We must stand up against such imposition on our people," he said.

A circular issued to Ministry of Education officials dated June 22, 2017 stated that all staff would be given contracts to sign this month.

The circular highlighted that staff of "permanent status" would be given two options with the options being: 

  • Will be offered a five-year contract from this month with the inclusion of the new salary increment and,
  • Those who do not accept the contract and choose to remain as permanent staff will not receive any pay adjustment.

When approached for a comment on the issue over the weekend, Education Minister Dr Mahendra Reddy said he would respond if he felt that it was appropriate to respond.

Fiji Times Online.
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